Separate Facebook posts shared by a couple of patrons about their experiences at Kokomo Beach sparked controversy this past weekend.
On Sunday, Kokomo resident Andrea Debruler wrote in a post that's been shared over 800 times on social media about attending the aquatic park with her 22-year-old daughter, who has a disability and is confined to a wheelchair.
In Kokomo Beach's rules and guidelines section on the facility's website, it states that guests with disabilities are welcome to attend the water park, and there are also accommodations — such as waterproof submergible wheelchairs — available for those who need that assistance.
According to her post, Debruler did not use the facility's wheelchair and used her daughter's regular wheelchair instead, citing the girl's severe weakness and other safety precautions.
Debruler also noted that her daughter and she entered the lazy river area of the facility through the wheelchair accessible exit, and the lifeguard on duty asked the couple if they needed assistance. After they stated they did not, the lifeguard then asked Debruler if the water current was going to be too strong, to which Debruler stated they would be fine, the post read.
As this was going on, Debruler wrote that her "bonus" daughter and grandson overheard another lifeguard call for a manager to come to the entrance of the lazy river.
Debruler and her daughter were able to drift around the lazy river one time, she wrote, before she was told to exit the water because her daughter was not in an inner tube but was instead in her own wheelchair.
"I explained Jania is disabled, and we have done this here and multiple lazy rivers without being demanded to get out of the water," Debruler stated in the post. "I stated we are getting out and leaving the park and that we have never been treated like this at any establishment."
On the list of Kokomo Beach's rules and regulations, there is a section for the lazy river, which states that patrons must "stay in the tube at all times." Those rules, however, don't indicate whether guests can be inside the lazy river in the facility's issued submergible wheelchair.
Debruler also stated in her social media post that as her family was getting ready to leave, officers with the Kokomo Police Department approached her and escorted her out of the facility.
When reached for comment about the incident, KPD Major Brian Seldon said that Kokomo Beach employees called KPD due to a "patron that was leaving, and there were some rules they had to follow, and they didn't like the rules."
Seldon also stated that employees told police that Debruler exchanged harsh words, threats toward staff and vulgarity, and Kokomo Beach staff didn't want the situation to escalate.
In another Facebook post from Monday morning, Debruler noted that she was able to speak with Kokomo Parks and Recreation Department Supervisor Torrey Roe, and he apparently apologized for Sunday's incident.
Debruler also wrote that she made several suggestions to Roe, such as posting all rules and procedures for water activities online and near the entrance and exit of each water area, as well as providing flotation devices for people with disabilities to use inside the lazy river. Debruler also expressed her desire to have Kokomo Beach staff provided with sensitivity training.
It's unclear if any of Debruler's suggestions will take effect at this time.
The Tribune made several attempts to contact both Debruler and Roe, but those attempts were unsuccessful.
Another incident earlier in the weekend occurred when a mother accused Kokomo Beach staff of telling her she wasn’t allowed to breastfeed her son in a public area, instead requesting she move into a changing room.
The woman, named Kayla Britton, posted on her Facebook page on Saturday, saying a Kokomo Beach lifeguard told her she wasn’t “allowed to sit here and breastfeed my son.”
The lifeguard, she said, told her “that I need to go sit in a dressing room to do that.”
“No. I actually do not. It is the law that anywhere I'm allowed to be I'm allowed to feed my child. Thats (sic) discrimination,” Britton added.
The Indiana State Department of Health notes on its website that state code “allows a woman to breastfeed her child anywhere the law allows her (the mother) to be.”
Just two chairs away, said Britton, was a baby drinking from a sippy cup – an act she believes is no different than her child doing “what he was born to do.”
“Breastfeeding shaming is unacceptable and wont (sic) be tolerated by me at all,” wrote Britton above a picture of her breastfeeding her son.
Britton could not be reached for further comment.
Britton’s story has in recent days created a social media firestorm. Her Facebook post had roughly 2,600 comments and more than 1,000 shares by Monday afternoon.
The responses were mixed.
“You know I'm okay with anybody who wants to breastfeed but I don't want to explained to my seven-year-old granddaughter what's going on,” said one Facebook user, Missy Gibson.
“And yes I'm sure there's some little kids who seen their mommy breastfeed but some of us don't. My point is it's okay to feed your kid but think of other kids don't traumatize them.”
Another comment, from a woman named Danell Crain, said: “You should put a [little] blanket over you and the baby!! Because I would have!!”
Other comments praised Britton.
“Kayla thank you for breastfeeding! I wish all mothers where secure enough to breastfeed their babies whenever and wherever they show signs of hunger without the fear of shaming,” said Patrice Gutierrez.
She added: “Furthermore, from your photo, your son was covering more than many bathing suits do! I’m sure there were some women in skimpy bikinis. I’m sure the lifeguard didn’t tell them to go change because they were showing too much skin!”
Another mother, Mary Catherine, who also posted a picture of herself breastfeeding her son, said: “I get crap for this all the time. I literally just posted about people giving me nasty looks, walking by saying it’s disgusting, telling their children not to look.
“Wherever the heck I am, my baby will eat! I will not go in a dressing room, a bathroom, or anywhere secluded from the public if my child is hungry. They’d rather let a baby scream than just be fed. It’s sad.”
One group, called MommaJuse, even organized a Nurse-In at Kokomo Beach on Monday.
A video of the group, posted on the Facebook page The Kokomo Reporter, showed a group of four women, two who appear to be breastfeeding, sitting underneath a tree outside Kokomo Beach with a group of children.
The group noted on Facebook it “seems that many in the community are unaware that is completely legal for a mother to nurse anywhere in public WITHOUT a cover!”
But MommaJuse also recognized “that while one employee at Kokomo Beach was unaware of the law and wrongly asked a mother not to nurse there, it does not mean that the business as a whole has made this statement or is not supportive,” saying mothers only want to exercise their legal right to nurse in public.