School Takes Blind Boy’s Cane and Gives Him a Pool Noodle

When my husband told me about this story, I thought it was a hoax.  And when I posted it on my Facebook page, some of my friends didn’t believe it either.  I did my research though, and sure enough, in what will probably go down in history as one of the dumbest moves ever played by a public school corporation, a blind boy’s cane was taken as punishment.  When they noticed he “fidgets” without his cane, they gave him a pool noodle as a substitute.

I’ve included the full text of the story below.  I even went as far as including the follow-up story where the school district “apologized” (if you want to call it that), but here’s a brief summary of what happened.  An 8-year-old blind boy supposedly struck another child with his cane on the bus ride to school.  As punishment for behaving badly, his cane was taken from him and he was given a pool noodle in its place.  In a public statement, the spokeswoman for the school district claimed the cane was school property that was given to him when he enrolled, and she also explained that the substitute item was given to him because he “fidgets” without his cane.

As a blind person, this story struck so many nerves with me.  And as a mother, well, you can imagine I had plenty to say there too.

For some perspective, I started learning to use a cane when I was in the fourth grade.  (Yes, I started late, but since I have some vision, I’d imagine that the decision to teach me to use a cane wasn’t as clear as one might think.) I also worked with two different dog guides over the course of eleven or twelve years, but from the fourth grade on, I could count on my cane for independent travel.  My first cane was given to me at the Indiana School for the Blind, and it wasn’t presented to me with strings.  And every cane that was given to me after that also came with no strings, so I couldn’t figure out how the school district considered the cane “school property”.

What’s more, once a person has learned how to use a cane, it’s a tool that provides independent travel.  I can navigate without help from anyone if I have a cane whereas I’m left to depend on others for safe travel in unfamiliar or particularly busy public places (like an elementary school, for instance.) Even if the young man struck someone with his cane on purpose (which could absolutely happen), taking his cane away for two weeks as “punishment” makes about as much sense as taking away a child’s textbook because he threw it or taking a child’s prosthetic foot because he kicked another student.  And if I were to extend the analogy, giving the blind boy a pool noodle to replace his cane makes about as much sense as taking a child’s prescription glasses and giving him or her a pair of safety glasses as a substitute.  It just doesn’t work.

I’m not going to make a judgement about whether or not the little boy actually did anything inappropriate with his cane.  I was a blind kid attending public school once; I know how hard it can be.  I was a good kid, but I also made bad choices.  (I’ll never forget one of my best friends making fun of me.  It really hurt me, so I took a baton and smacked her in the stomach with it, HARD.) I was treated just like sighted kids.  If I did something wrong, I was punished.  And that’s how it should be.  But never once would someone have ever considered taking away my glasses, my cane, any adaptive technology to which I had access, or my large print or Braille school books.

Taking away a child’s cane because you think he struck someone with it is downright idiotic! And in my view, it’s also taking the “easy” way out.  It’s not like you can take away a child’s hand or foot (usually) if they hit someone.  You have to think more creatively.  How CAN these people actually keep their jobs?

And to me, what’s even worse is the fact that Dakota (the boy at the center of the story) was given a POOL NOODLE to use as a cane.  Now, it might not occur to those of you who don’t depend on a cane for independent travel, but the key feature that a cane MUST have is rigidity.  Even my 9-year-old realized as I told the story that a pool noodle would never work.  “When it hits a crack or something, you’d just make it bend and you’d walk right into it.” Of COURSE it would, and Dakota was having that exact problem.  The rigidity provides tactile sensitivity, and it keeps you from compressing it and walking right off a curb or right down a flight of stairs that you didn’t know were there.

When I first read this story, I thought, “If I lived closer, I’d take a cane to this young man so that nobody could take away his independent travel.” Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had this thought because hundreds made the same offer.

I’m so glad that Dakota’s parents made a stink.  Mine would have done the same thing.  Sometimes, it’s hard advocating for your children who have special needs, and it absolutely shouldn’t be that way.  People need to use their brains.  This sort of thing absolutely should never have happened.

Unfortunately for Dakota’s mother, this won’t be the last time she has to advocate for her child.  My own mother had to fight all the way through school, and I continue to advocate for myself to this day (even though I turned 38 last Thursday.)

Even if the adults in charge who’re SUPPOSED to know better do everything right, going through school with a disability is tough.  I’ve shared this before, but the bullying that I endured as a child definitely shaped me in a unique way.  We can’t eliminate it with children, but we certainly don’t have to abide it.  And under NO circumstances should we tolerate it from grown-ups who ought to know better.  Good for Dakota for not letting them stop him, and good for his parents for continuing to advocate for their child when nobody else would.  That young man will likely do amazing things, and this experience will be nothing more than a little bump along the way.

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2 Responses to School Takes Blind Boy’s Cane and Gives Him a Pool Noodle

  1. leosmike says:

    *sigh* stories like this are depressing to me. even before you get to the ridiculous point that they replaced it with a pool noodle. ugh.

    • I suppose what bothered me more than anything else was the bullying/humiliation undertones that were likely missed by most folks. Some might say I’m over-sensitive, and I’m fine with that, but I experienced bullying and humiliation by adults who clearly had nothing better to do than pick on a blind little girl. You expect that sort of thing from young kids (to a degree), but adults should know better. What’s more, they shouldn’t be encouraging the very behaviors that can have tragic consequences later in life.

      My parents couldn’t protect me from the bullying despite their trying. The world is hard. But we can’t just give these idiots a free pass by saying, “Well, kids have to learn how to function in the real world, and they’re always going to run into stupid people that do stupid things.” Yes, kids have to learn how to function in the real world, but nobody has to tolerate this kind of craziness from people who’re supposed to be held to a higher standard.

      I could rant forever about this, but I’ll climb off my soapbox now. :)

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