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Two Harbors foster parents lose license after spanking

A Two Harbors couple's child foster care license was revoked because the foster mother spanked a foster child in violation of state rules, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Kirk and Beth Schield were issued a license to care for up to four foster children in their home on Dec. 1, 2010. The revocation was announced in a letter to the Schields dated July 6 and was posted on Tuesday on the department's website. No criminal charges were filed.

The Schields have the right to repeal the revocation.

Kirk Schield is pastor of Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church in Two Harbors. He told the Lake County News-Chronicle on Wednesday that they will appeal and hope to have their license restored soon. Schield said he and his wife received the state's letter on Monday.

Sara Byrns, former track and Nordic ski coach at Two Harbors High School, coached the Schields' children during her tenure and called the couple "loving and caring." Byrns said they volunteered in various capacities for her sports teams, including helping out at home competitions and chaperoning trips.

"They've been huge supporters of their kids ... and volunteered and helped out in whatever capacity I've needed," Byrns said.

The letter from the Department of Human Services cited a report in May to Lake County Human Services alleging that Beth Schield used corporal punishment as discipline.

An investigator determined that Schield spanked a foster child on more than one occasion and that she "used corporal punishment as a form of discipline although she knew it was not allowed. Ms. Schield also told Lake County that she could not assure them that she would discontinue using corporal punishment on foster children."

The letter said the Schields failed to report details of the child's behavior to the placing agency as required by the child's case plan.

Foster children in the Schields' care were removed after the Lake County investigation, the letter said.

The letter cited Minnesota rules on placement, continued stay and discharge. Under "discipline," the rules state that foster children must not be subjected to corporal punishment, including spanking.

Opinions vary widely on whether corporal punishment is appropriate. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 1995 called spanking "the least effective way to discipline a child" and found it to be "emotionally harmful to both parent and child."

But in a study presented to the American Psychological Association's 2001 annual conference by University of California, Berkeley psychologists Diana Baumrind and Elizabeth Owns found that occasional mild spanking does not harm a child's social and emotional development.

"I don't advocate spanking," Baumrind said in the association's journal, "but a blanket injunction against its use isn't warranted by the evidence. It is reliance on physical punishment, not whether or not it's used at all, that is associated with harm to the child."

Just last week, the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) narrowly approved a resolution against using corporal punishment on children.

But the majority of the population still may support corporal punishment. In a Survey USA poll in 2005, 72 percent of respondents said "yes" to the question: "Do you think it is OK to spank a child?" In Minnesota, 63 percent of respondents said "yes."

Spanking is banned in public schools in 30 states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin. But it's not prohibited in the home in any state. Some legal experts interpreted Minnesota statutes as outlawing corporal punishment in the home, but the state Supreme Court disagreed with that interpretation in a 2008 case.