On Monday morning April 27, 1964, a Myerstown policeman arrived at Eastern Lebanon County High School and arrested Ronald Lee Paine for assault and battery.
The charge stemmed from an incident that had occurred the previous Friday when the teacher allegedly struck 16-year-old eleventh grader Candace Christ once across the front of her leg and four times across the buttocks with a yardstick with the last four blows reportedly leaving welts.
Disclosure: I never knew Candace Christ or her parents, but her brother Jeff was in my high school class. Other than a very slight memory of the events, my only sources for this account are the newspaper articles published at the time. As to the incident that triggered the subsequent chain of events, we only have a he said, she said situation. I’ll publish all the newspaper reports at the end of this post. Candace’s last name is pronounced “crĭst” with a short “i” sound.
Oh, and another thing. In those days the use of corporal punishment was very common at Elco, at least among the male teachers. In fact, I had been the recipient of it myself a few times, one time even from Mr. Paine himself when I was in seventh grade. My infraction was talking when I shouldn’t have been. That time he used the paddle from a Paddle Ball set.
Candace’s parents called the school board president after the incident and also spoke to a school principal but weren’t satisfied with their responses. Ronald Paine himself called the parents on Friday evening and explained that their daughter was “antagonistic and doesn’t show any respect”, but again failed to satisfy them. That’s when they decided to take legal action.
Naturally the entire faculty threw their support behind fellow teacher Ronald Paine. One of the few memories I have of this time is a conversation I had with Mrs. Messerschmidt, who was acting librarian that year, in which she claimed that the community as a whole would probably support the teacher over the parents.
Over the next few days there were charges and counter-charges published in the Lebanon Daily News; there was even an anonymous letter to the editor from someone who claimed to have witnessed the incident.
The policeman found himself on the defensive and justified his arrest of the teacher during the middle of the school day as just following normal procedure. Meanwhile, he found himself in a dispute with the Justice of the Peace over whether the JP did or did not say the arrest warrant needed to be served “immediately”.
Finally, a hearing was held before the Myerstown Justice of the Peace Lester P. Frantz on Thursday May 7, 1964. Candace and her parents were present, and according to the newspaper account, District Attorney Alvin B. Lewis Jr. represented the commonwealth and was in effect the attorney for the Christ family. The 26-year-old Paine was represented by counsel L. E. Meyer.
Three additional Elco faculty members were present to lend support: Esther Papson (in the newspaper account she is referred to as Mrs. Christopher Papson), James Beard, and Earl Hess. Also present as observers were three justices of the peace from nearby communities.
Candace was the first to testify. She said she was in Paine’s English class on April 24 “when he kicked me out in the hall.” By “kicked me” she meant he ordered her out. She said he took her arm and “he gave me a push…not really hard.”
She and several other students had been laughing and Paine asked her what she was laughing about. She said, “I was laughing at the boy next to me.” She said that Paine said he wanted it quiet. So she asked him, “Why didn’t you give the others heck? — Why only me? The others were laughing.”
Then Paine ordered her to report to the office. She said she would if he would explain why. “Then he told me to stand against the wall in the hall.”
When she was going out the door, she asked why she was being punished, “and that’s when he got mad and went back and got the yardstick.” She was struck once across the front of her leg and four times across the buttocks. They did not speak to each other, and there were no witnesses in the hall.
She admitted that she and Paine “never did get along” and that this was not the first time he had sent her out into the hall for talking during class.
Under cross-examination by Meyer she admitted that she had been spanked at home.
Her father testified that the welts were “streaks of white, puffed and red around the edges.”
Her mother testified that during their telephone conversation Paine could not recall what Candace had said before he paddled her.
At the conclusion of their testimony District Attorney Alvin B. Lewis advised Justice of the Peace Lester P. Frantz to dismiss the charge against Ronald Paine because Paine “had not been guilty of malicious or excessive punishment” when he struck Candace Christ. A school teacher “has the same disciplinary rights under the state school code as has a parent.”
The newspaper account continued: “The D.A., in an aside remark, said that less sparing of the rod might result in less juvenile delinquency.” Yes, people, apparently the D.A. of Lebanon County actually said that.
Postscript: In 2005 Pennsylvania amended the school code to prohibit corporal punishment.