Santa Rosa County School District in northwest Florida has finally said it will stop hitting its students after advocating corporal punishment for years.

According to local news Northwest Florida Daily News, school officials are abolishing “paddling” next year but not because advocacy groups have been calling for it; After years of debate, the district is banning the practice to protect its teachers from lawsuits.

Santa Rosa County Schools’ most recent Code of Student Conduct states:

“The moderate use of physical force or physical contact by a Principal or Assistant Principal may be necessary to maintain discipline or to enforce rules. We believe that corporal punishment is a viable alternative in maintaining discipline in a school setting.”

The guidelines go on to say that students in Kindergarten to third grade are “limited to two strokes or less,” grades 4 to 6 are limited to "three strokes or less" and seventh through twelfth grade can only receive "four strokes or less." However, parents have been allowed to opt out of corporal punishment practices, if they choose, in writing.

WEAR-TV said more than 400 incidents of paddling have been reported in the district since the 2011-2012 school year. 

But because of recent lawsuits, the district is planning to abolish hitting next year. NWF Daily News said four reports have been filed by parents to the Department of Children and Families in recent years complaining about corporal punishment.

The decision did not stem from pressure from local advocacy groups, like Floridians Against Corporal Punishment, calling to stop the practice, according to Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick, but for the protection of faculty.

“I can no longer protect my employees. Even if they’re following protocol and involving the parents,” Wyrosdick told the Northwest Florida Daily News. “Our employees are awesome individuals who work so hard. They don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

Wyrosdick added that the code of conduct will be presented to the school board in June for the 2014-2015 school year without the corporal punishment clauses.

Nearly 40 schools comprise the Milton, Fla.-based district.