The decision to punish a blind child by replacing his mobility cane with a swimming pool noodle is an “extra nasty step,” says a director at the American Council of the Blind.
Dakota Nafzinger, age eight, is a student at Gracemor Elementary School in Kansas City. He was born without eyes, and relies on his white mobility cane for personal freedom and the ability to move freely about his environment, according to FOX 4 in Kansas City.
North Kansas City Schools spokeswoman Michelle Cronk told the media that Dakota hit somebody with his cane while riding the bus and his punishment was to have his cane taken away and replaced with a foam pool noodle.
Ms. Cronk also reportedly said that Dakota was given the pool noodle not as a replacement for a mobility device, but rather because he needed something to hold in order to avoid fidgeting. The school also reportedly said that it owned the cane and gave it to the boy at the beginning of the school year.
In a statement released by Cronk Wednesday afternoon, the district reversed its earlier decision.
The District has reviewed the situation. We regret that a mistake was made in making sure the student was in possession of his cane when he boarded the bus Monday evening.
The District has apologized to the family and is working to rectify the situation. When we were made aware of the mistake, corrections were made. It is always the District’s policy when we become aware of situations like this, we thoroughly and immediately investigate to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.
In a phone call Cronk, says: “We’ve been taking a lot of heat from the local community over this.”
Eric Bridges, director of external relations and policy for the American Council of the Blind (ACB) says in a phone interview from his office in Arlington, Va., that the act of taking a blind child’s cane from him as a form of punishment was “absolutely wrong and something which impedes the child’s mobility.”
“To do what this school did to this student is just beyond the pale,” says Mr. Bridges, who is blind himself. “If you want to punish a blind child then punish him the same way you punish a sighted child – detention, suspension, sitting on a bench in the hallway. What this school did was just an extra nasty step of demeaning the child, humiliating him and robbing him of his mobility.”
Bridges adds that even if the school supplied a guide to constantly be by the boy’s side, the addition of the pool noodle adds a dimension of humiliation that is unacceptable.
“There’s already enough stigma that comes with the white cane,” Bridges added. “A pool noodle? Because he fidgets? I honestly don’t know which is worse, taking his freedom of mobility or the total public humiliation.”
Dakota’s father, Donald Nafzinger told the media that his son lifts his cane sometimes and the bus driver thought he was using it violently.
“All around, he’s a good little guy, and he shouldn’t be treated the way he’s being treated,” Mr. Nafzinger said.
Bridges adds, “It’s honestly very hard for me to get my mind around what it would take for an educated adult to come up with that punishment,” Bridges says in exasperation. “It’s almost as if another eight-year-old thought that one up.”