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February 5, 1996
From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

JEFFERSONVILLE, New York (CNN) -- To the people of Jeffersonvile -- nestled in the lower Catskill Mountains -- the national headlines have been a shock.

Their school superintendent, David Wax -- a native of Brooklyn who came to Jeffersonville from California last July -- stands accused of beating his 8-year-old adopted son with a yard-long rubber snake.

The alleged whipping came at Wax's home several hours after the boy was given a five-day suspension from bringing razor blades onto his school bus. At school the next day, someone found a dozen welts on the boy's back and chest -- and called a child abuse hotline.

The marks on the boy's back, says Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen, were "the kind of raised, red marks that were visible for days."

Lungen charged the father with two misdemeanor counts, carrying a possible sentence of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

After his arrest, Wax agreed to take a leave of absence, with pay, using his vacation time. State education officials have said that if he is convicted, he could lose his certification to work in a school.

CNN's attempted unsuccessfully to reach Wax for a comment, but his attorney, Henry Shawn, argued that his client's arrest came too quickly and should not have been made public.

"This child did not require medical attention," Shawn said. "This child was not removed from the home."

Shawn also says that a neurologist has since diagnosed the boy as suffering from attention deficit disorder.

At Ted's Restaurant, the leading lunch spot in Jeffersonville, most of the diners thought David Wax was getting a bum rap and that parents should have a right to discipline their children as they see fit.

In 1968, 94 percent of U.S. adults surveyed approved of spanking. But by last year, that number was down to 68 percent. The caning of U.S. teen- ager Michael Fay in Singapore two years ago prompted many calls for a return to corporal punishment. But, last week in California, state lawmakers voted down a bill to bring paddling back to public schools.

The apparent paradox between those two views creates an unavoidable tension, says Steve Forrester of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

"People want child protection, but they also want families to have privacy and to be free to raise themselves as they see fit," says Forrester.

For the people in Jeffersonville, that tension has been brought painfully close to home.

Copyright 1996 Cable News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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