UPDATE! School Insists on Babying Blind, Capable Teen (for His Own Good)

UPDATE: Good news! Following talks with the Pennsylvania Council for the Blind, the school district will allow an “orientation and mobility instructor” to appraise Deven’s situation, and possibly allow him to get off the bus on his own (with some caveats). The update is here. 

Readers — This  story about a blind kid who doesn’t want to be babied by his (lawsuit-fearing) school  is all about making a Free-Range Kid into an invalid:

Born blind, Deven Phillips has been in Nazareth Area schools his entire life. His mother, Paula Smith, has made every effort to raise her 13-year-old son to be independent. But after a year and a half of getting off his school bus unattended, the school district informed his mother that policy must change.

Briefly: Deven had been driven “curb to curb” until sixth grade. Then, at last!, he was ready to join his peers on regular school bus. For the past year and a half now he’d been let off at his bus stop, same as any other kid.  But one day this winter, when snow and ice blocked the regular stop, he got  a little turned around when he got off and the bus driver had to tell him which direction to walk. That was all it took for his school to go nuts with worry, either for his safety, or its own liability. School Superintendent Dennis Riker wrote to the mom:

“The major concern with the bus stop is Deven’s orientation when he exits the bus. … Therefore, it’s my recommendation to our transportation office that an individual be required to be at the bus stop to assist Deven, or our transportation department will provide curb-to-curb service. Both of these options, supported by the (school district’s) attorney, would be in place on a permanent basis, even when the inclement weather season ends.”

Yes, even when it’s nice outside, the proud and independent young man will be treated like he’s helpless.

This story hits close to home for me. My husband’s dad went blind at 16 and his parents fought to have him stay in his mainstream school, where he’d been a failing student. He struggled to finish, and went on to law school where he graduated…valedictorian.

Meantime, Deven’s school is teaching him this life lesson: “You think you can make in the world, but you can’t.” Lovely. – L

(Mis)remember the words of Helen Keller: "Life is a daring adventure...so make sure someone is always taking care of you. Also, avoid lawsuits."

(Mis)remember the words of Helen Keller: “Life is a daring adventure…so avoid it.” 

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51 Responses to UPDATE! School Insists on Babying Blind, Capable Teen (for His Own Good)

  1. Earth.W March 19, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    These people are tiring.

  2. Silver Fang March 19, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    Put him in a different district.

  3. SKL March 19, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    I’d be throwing my private mom tantrum and then figuring out how to break the rules. Argh.

  4. SKL March 19, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    How about this. The boy probably has an IEP or some sort of accommodation plan. Maybe bring an expert to the next IEP type meeting who will insist that the boy be required to go home independently, as it is a necessary life skill in order for him to become a functioning adult. Extra points if the advocate him/herself is blind and arrives at the meeting without special assistance. ;)

    Some of my kids’ classmates have had potty accidents at school. As far as I know, one little mistake is not enough to require the parents to put them back in diapers. This is no different. If he was walking into the street regularly, that would be different.

  5. Virginia March 19, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds like the bus driver handled the “situation” (which was a non-situation truth be told) just fine.

  6. BL March 19, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    This is all so wrong.

    The knee-jerk policy.

    The stupid bureaucratese in the letter: “inclement weather season”? Is that what we humans call “winter”?

    The “jones” commenter on the linked story, screaming about how Deven and his family should just move if they don’t like it. That’s right, jones, we exist for the school bureaucracy’s convenience, not them for us. But as the saying goes, “there are none so blind as those who will not see.” Compared to “jones”, Deven has 20/20 vision.

  7. Jen (P.) March 19, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    SKL’s suggestion is great. Turn it around on them.

    Why does every minor hiccup have to become a big issue? So he had a little trouble navigating around a pile of snow. The bus driver helped him out. If he hadn’t, another student was probably there to assist. Problem solved.

    Cool story about your father in law, Lenore.

  8. QuicoT March 19, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    Sounds like this school is preparing this kid for adult life just great…because as everyone knows there’ll ALWAYS be someone on hand to take him from curb-to-curb wherever he wants to go, forever.

    They don’t actually realize the disservice they’re doing, do they?

  9. forsythia March 19, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    Let me guess: this school administrator next declared “it would be so much easier if parents did their jobs”, and then proceeded to usurp another parent’s authority and ability to do so.

  10. Backroads March 19, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    This breaks my heart!

    When teaching, I had a classroom dad who had been blind for years. He and his wife pretty much ran the school’s PTA, the man was intelligent with a great job, and was fine wandering about the school.

    The kid is fine.

  11. Lynda March 19, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    Over and over, I see these stories where it seems like the knee jerk, inflexible policies are as much out of fear of litigation as fear for safety.

    But the result is the same. Kids are not permitted to practice their independence and gain confidence (this and the girl scout policies). And human kindness is deemed scary and dangerous (the bathing suit fire drill issue).

    As a free range proponent, I can do my part to combat the safety fear mongering. But I don’t know what we can do to combat the frivolous litigation specter. Any thoughts?

  12. lollipoplover March 19, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Superintendent Riker said:
    “It’s my recommendation to our transportation office that an individual be required to be at the bus stop to assist Deven”

    One of his fellow bus riders or friends can get Deven off in the right direction and then hop back on the bus. I am sure if the driver asked, he would have a volunteer.
    Problem solved.

  13. Backroads March 19, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    I read the comments of the article. So many had to point out the lawsuit fear. One bad day and that kid’s parents will be suing.

    Well… how does his blindness make a lawsuit significantly more likely? I’m thinking that any kid of the whole spectrum of vision getting hurt directly or indirectly because of a bus is subject to the possibility of parents suing.

    So, exercise common sense and let an off day be an off day.

    Because if this boy has to have special help at the bus stop in order to prevent a law suit, ALL kids would have to have special help.

  14. Warren March 19, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    If the school fears a lawsuit for injury, then turn it around and threaten a lawsuit for discrimination.

  15. Havva March 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Wow… what a horrendous way to treat a young man. I met a friend in 6th grade (11 years old) who was legally blind. She was absolutely fierce about her independence, and may I add completely capable. As I recall she walked to school from her mother’s workplace everyday. I noticed there were moments for her that were more difficult than for your average kid. And there was an urge to jump in when she was a little disoriented. But she was quick to teach all of us to back off, and let her decide if or when she needed help.
    I’m sure she and her family would have fought back, just like this family did (if anyone had been so daft as to cross her).

    Good to see the update at the original site. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/nazareth/index.ssf/2014/03/nazareth_area_teen_born_blind.html
    The re-assessment by the orientation and mobility instructor, I’m sure will go well. And hopefully the school is getting a good education in the importance of fostering appropriate independence in youngsters, even if they make a mistake along the way.

  16. Lynda March 19, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    Thanks for the update, Havva. That is indeed good news.

  17. Papilio March 19, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    Since when is a 13-year-old a “young man”? That is really too far to the other end of the scale to me.

    But what this school is trying to implement is ridiculous. Just help the boy when he needs help – in case of disorienting snow and ice on the ground – and leave him be the rest of the time.

  18. John March 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    If Deven were an adult, his independence and self-maneuvering would be no problem, despite of an occasional mistake. But just because he’s a child, it is a problem. Here we go again, bubble-wrapping our youth.

  19. Lisa March 19, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

    This is all about liability. If the child needed door-to-door transportation, it would be in his IEP or 504 plan. That is the ONLY way it can be added and it has to be done with parent consent or go through a very lengthy mediation process. We had a district try to pull the same exact thing (only it was financially motivated) and went to the point of having a lawyer involved to resolve it. Use the IEP/504!!

    We have worked very hard to make our daughter as independent as possible. Last year, she walked to/from school, often by herself. She is blind, not incapable…and she fights very hard against that old stereotype. :)

  20. deltaflute March 19, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    This is insane. Almost as bad as the blind couple from Missouri. CPS overreacted to a breast feeding incident (the baby wasn’t getting enough air and the mother didn’t realize the positioning was bad but she did realize the baby wasn’t breathing/sucking and called a nurse) and removed the baby for months. They made such horrible inquiries like how would they take the baby’s temperature (a talking digital thermometer) or if there was an emergency (call for an ambulance). Why do people treat blind people like they are idiots and incapable?

  21. Havva March 19, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    @Papilio,

    I’ll admit most people don’t see teens as young adults. But I am Jewish, and 13 is the age a boy has his Bar Mitzvah and “becomes a man.” At 13 of course “young man” is more an aspirational term than a reality. But, that term stood as an ever present reminder of my community’s and my parent’s belief that the only thing standing between a teen and any activity was knowledge and experience (something they were eager to let us acquire). The phrase was a reminder that childhood was coming to a rapid close, and that it was time to take responsibility for daily living. It was also a reminder of the trust our parents and community expect to be able to give us, (the recension of such trust was the worst of all punishments, when I was a teen).

    In this case the phrase seemed necessary. Deven has no developmental delays. So if at 13 a person says he can’t be trusted to step off a bus, in real world conditions, and walk 50 feet on his own, *learning from his mistakes along the way* … that person is basically saying that he will grow into a man who can never ride a bus. For a blind person that means utter dependance for life. So for a blind teen this is a huge part of growing into a man/woman. That thought no doubt triggered me grabbing for the phrase that in my life best encapsulates that sense of a teen’s most important mission, and deepest desire: become an adult.

  22. Christopher Reagan March 19, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    So what they’re teaching students like us is we half to live a life of being waited on hand and foot. We half to be treated like little kids all our lives? Give me a break people! I’m blind and I half to say I do the best that I can even in bad weather. If there’s a problem, I do my best to solve it. I look at it this way, let the child take curb to curb during the winter months and then have him take the regular bus during the spring. It’s a fairly good way to deal with the situation and believe me during the winter, it can help. I know this from experience especially after this brutle winter we had in the Northeast. It’s nice to have help when it’s available and when you need it, not have it forced upon you like some invalid. Canes don’t work well in the snow and so this is a great compromise I think.

  23. Andrew March 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Until we have driverless buses, there must be at least one individual who is guaranteed to be “at” the bus stop each time the bus arrives, even when the “clement weather season” starts. The same person who provided the minimal assistance on the rare occasion it was required.

    Just ask the driver to keep a neighbourly eye on his blind passenger.

  24. SOA March 19, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

    I am impressed at this young man’s tenacity and independence.

  25. SKL March 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Off topic to Papilio, we also say “young man” for a pubescent or teen boy. It’s another way to say “male youth.”

  26. The Retro Way March 19, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Don’t even adults sometimes get disorientated at times, especially if things have been moved out of their normal positions? Isn’t it completely normal? Wouldn’t it have been a sign he did need to be assisted if he was not at all disorientated, because that would have suggested he was thinking?

  27. The Retro Way March 19, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    Typo!

    Don’t even adults sometimes get disorientated at times, especially if things have been moved out of their normal positions? Isn’t it completely normal? Wouldn’t it have been a sign he did need to be assisted if he was not at all disorientated, because that would have suggested he was NOT thinking?

  28. Bob Cavanaugh March 19, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    Because I never went to my local school, I had door-to-door service until I graduated high school. I’m sure though, had we lived in the service area for the schools I went to, my parents, like this kid’s, would have insisted that I ride the bus with everyone else. Today I walk the roughly third of a mile to the bus stop and take the city bus over to the college, and I go to my old elementary school to visit some of the current blind students. There are some days where one of my parents or my sister drives me to somewhere that I would ordinarily take the bus to get to, but that’s usually when it’s pouring rain.

  29. Cindy March 19, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    And my son’s best friend is blind. His parents were a little worried when he was younger about letting him walk with my son up to the store( crossing major roads) but now he does everything! The shopping center is in the middle between our neighborhoods and my teen son and his teen blind friend are always meeting there because it is in the middle. Crazy thing school system is doing, though, this blind kid, who will never drive, legally can’t, has to take Driver’s ed and sign a form that he will never drive drunk and will call his parents if he is drunk to drive him home. LOGIC!!!

  30. J- March 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    Is driver’s ed and elective in high school in PA? I so want him to demand to be allowed to take that class. I don’t care if he never qualifies for a license. I just want him and an ACLU attorney to put the school though hell in a few years just for fun.

  31. Papilio March 19, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    @Havva & SLK: Needless to say it sounds very odd to me… To me ‘man’ = ‘male adult’, and calling a kid that age an adult, YEARS before any modern society allows him to actually do things like drive, vote, drink, sign up for the army, get a mortgage – plus you’d get a heart attack if your thirteen-year-old came home with a girlfriend and some condoms and they went off to his room together – is ridiculous (sorry) and seems to be overcompensating.
    So I’ll stick to ‘teen boy’ or something. Anyway, I didn’t mean to turn this into a whole discussion.

  32. pentamom March 19, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    Papilio — think of it as an idiom. We don’t literally mean he necessarily has all the attributes of adulthood. But it’s a common turn of phrase in English (American English, at least, can’t speak for others) to refer all but the very littlest boys as “young man” when being complimentary, encouraging, or even scolding. We wouldn’t say “look, there’s a young man walking down the street” when we saw a teenager, but many Americans, particularly those over 40 or so, would say “He’s a fine young man” or “You should be ashamed of yourself, young man!” In fact, we don’t often use the phrase nowadays in ordinary, casual speech to refer to literal “young men,” as in fully grown young adult males under 35, though older generations do/did. Language can be funny!

  33. E. Simms March 19, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    @Papilio

    Calling teenagers or even younger children “young man” or “young lady” is just cultural in the US. You could probably even call it an idiom.

    It can be used in a courteous way when you want to bolster the kid’s ego, or it can be used in a disparaging way such as:

    “Get off the computer NOW, young man.”

  34. Reziac March 19, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    This isn’t about this young man being blind. It’s about the notion that any time a child makes a mistake, they must be automatically ‘protected’ from their own ‘incompetence’ (ie. forcibly prevented from learning better). It could have been any child disoriented by snow where they didn’t expect to trip over it, and the reaction would have been the same. It’s ‘news’ only because this boy is blind.

    I do wonder how much of the overreactions we see in such cases is an unintended consequence of the ADA.

    BTW my very good friend is ‘blind in one eye and can’t see outta the other’ — her visual field from her single working eye extends maybe two feet under ideal light. Doesn’t stop her from riding the bus alone and walking by herself — ALL OVER LOS ANGELES. She’s so capable that it really doesn’t occur to anyone to offer help — in fact when she carries a white cane (which she doesn’t do all the time) sometimes she gets razzed for it by someone who doesn’t realise she’s almost blind!

  35. SKL March 19, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    Papilio, you can’t change the idioms of the English language just because they sound weird to you.

    By the way, “teenager” is a relatively new word.

    Also, “man” is a much broader term than legally adult male. Look it up.

  36. SKL March 19, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    We also say “young lady” for girls of similar age.

  37. Peter Armenia March 19, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    One of my best friends in high school was blind and he walked to school. He also was the one to help us navigate in our trips to Toronto from Buffalo. He led, we followed.

  38. Sharon Davids March 20, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    My daughter is in 6th grade and has a female neighbor who is in 8th grade and is blind. They often walk down the elevator together. They attend the same middle school.

    Our 8th grade neighbor has a special needs bus that pulls up to the door of our building. My daughter walks about two blocks no crossing streets to the general bus. I think both of them would like to go on the general bus.

    It won’t happen for them our neighbor will attend high school next year.

  39. Neil M March 20, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Wow, what a cruel policy. In the name of safety, the school is going to infantilize a boy who more than anyone else needs to learn and exercise self-sufficiency. Criminy.

    It’s like our schools and their policies are no longer for children; they’re designed to satisfy the insurance companies.

  40. Papilio March 20, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    @all: So in your culture it’s a beyond ironic figure of speech – not a neutral-ish description – that seems to have spread from a second person context to a third person context. Okay then.

  41. Papilio March 20, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    And I don’t mean it’s ironically used, per se, just that the combination of saying young man and treating him like he’s a little kid is ironic.

  42. SKL March 20, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    Papilio, surely you have some terms in your mother tongue that don’t sound 100% logical for today’s reality?

    I’m not sure why you are getting so fixated on this. Why do you care what we call our youths in English?

  43. pentamom March 21, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    “And I don’t mean it’s ironically used, per se, just that the combination of saying young man and treating him like he’s a little kid is ironic.”

    Actually I think the implication is more that the parent thinks he should be acting like a young man, but he’s being more like a little kid (misbehaving, being irresponsible, whatever.) But again, it’s more idiomatic, so the sense doesn’t apply in every circumstance. It’s just a phrase.

    Like SKL says, there have to be Dutch idioms that no longer carry their literal meaning, but are used without a second thought by native speakers. That’s all this really is.

  44. pentamom March 21, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Or, that we think he’s worthy of being treated like a young man, because we want to show respect for him, as in the particular case we have here.

  45. ebohlman March 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Lynda: Part of the solution is the same as countering the fear of rare dangers: “catastrophic” litigation is a lot rarer than news stories make it out to be. Point out that those huge jury awards you hear about are nearly always drastically (often by a factor of 10 or more) reduced by the judge. Point out that the total number of lawsuits per year is a fairly meaningless figure since most of them involve either contract disputes between businesses or attempts to collect debts. Point out that it’s misleading to say that the US has more lawyers per capita than other countries because nearly all countries outside the US distinguish between barristers (who handle litigation) and solicitors (who handle the legal aspects of transactions).

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  47. Amanda March 25, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    This is appalling! Blind people have the same potential to be successful as anyone else, but it is precisely this attitude, whether from parents, teachers, or other adults in their lives, which hold them back. Adults shelter blind children and insist they need help, or even worse just do everything for them, to the point that when they become adults, they do not have the skills to live independently, which is the very reason so many blind people struggle, because the parents and other adults in their lives do not do their jobs.

    It is the job of every parent to teach their child the skills they need to succeed as an adult. This can be money management, cooking, cleaning, travelling, etc. This obligation does NOT change just because one has a blind child. You don’t push them aside because it’s more convenient, you don’t hold their hand and walk them through life.

    You know what? Life can be dangerous, for anyone, blind or not. They could start to cross the street and a speeding car going twice the speed limit hits them from out of nowhere. They could stumble down a step and break their ankle, they could jump off a swing and break their arm, or they could even have a heart attack, annurism, or similar thing at an unexpected time. It could happen to any or all of us at any time, with or without prior warning. Deadly car accidents happen every day. Do we stop driving? No. Just recently a plane crashed into the ocean. Does everyone stop flying? No. In high school an acquaintance of mine got hit and killed by a drunk driver while on the sidewalk walking home from school. Do we stop walking places? No. So, if a blind individual gets disoriented once because of bad weather, does that automatically mean he stops travelling independently? Certainly not! Come on people, grow a brain!

    Okay sorry for the rant that’s longer than this article, but people with this attitude absolutely infuriate me! Rant over.

  48. Amanda March 25, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    Papilio ,

    I call my 3 year old son ‘Little Man’ as a nickname. If you’re going to go so ape over us using young man to describe a teenager, what then would you say to my 3 year old being called Little Man? The fact is he is little and he is a male, so he is a little man. Regardless though, it’s a cute nickname. And as others have said, young man doesn’t mean they are grown. It’s more a sign of respect. They’re not a little boy anymore. They’ve grown, hopefully matured although this can vary, and have a level of reasoning and independence not associated with young children. I don’t really understand how this begins such an involved little debate, but that’s my two cents.

  49. Amanda Matthews March 25, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    At 13, he most likely has begun puberty; which by definition means he is no longer a child and is therefore a man.

    It’s like the difference between “puppy” and “dog.”

  50. Korou March 26, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    This reminds me a bit from this sketch from The League of Gentlemen, a satirical BBC comedy:

    RNEST FOOT SITS ON A BENCH. A BLIND MAN APPROACHES, AND SITS DOWN NEXT TO HIM. ERNEST DOESN’T QUITE KNOW HOW TO REACT. ALTHOUGH HE MEANS WELL, HE TALKS IN A PATRONISING MANNER.

    ERNEST:
    There’s a man sitting next to you. Not another man – me, I am. I thought you ought to know.

    BLIND MAN:
    Oh…thank you.

    ERNEST:
    That’s alright. It’s a lovely day!

    BLIND MAN:
    Yes…

    ERNEST:
    No – I’m telling you – it is a lovely day. Hardly any clouds in the sky, you are in a park, on a bench, talking to a man – me. Am I shouting?

    BLIND MAN:
    What?

    ERNEST REPLIES IN A LOUD VOICE.

    ERNEST:
    Am I shouting?

    BLIND MAN:
    A little, yes.

    ERNEST:
    I thought so. I expect your ears are more finely tuned than an average, normal, healthy person’s.

    BLIND MAN:
    They are important, yes.

    ERNEST:
    Keep your specs on for one thing!

    THE BLIND MAN LAUGHS, HUMOURING HIM.

    BLIND MAN:
    They forecast rain again later this afternoon.

    ERNEST:
    I beg your pardon?

    BLIND MAN:
    They say it will rain again this afternoon.

    ERNEST:
    Well how would you know? Did they write it down for you in that bumpy writing?

    BLIND MAN:
    Ha…no, it was on the television.

    ERNEST:
    Oh…no, no. Good for you. Do you watch a lot of…

    REALISES HIS MISTAKE.

    …No. It’s all repeats anyway. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. You should get yourself a video!

    BLIND MAN:
    I’ve got one, actually…

    ERNEST:
    Then, you can tape stuff just to listen to it! Or else, keep it, in case one day…Well, who knows?