Michael Kelly is a teenager who has autism and Down Syndrome. He attends Wichita East High School and plays basketball for the school's special needs team. Kelly began wearing a letter jacket his mother purchased for him, worn by the varsity team. When Kelly wore it to school, select members of the faculty forced him to remove the varsity jacket and wear a sweatshirt.
When questioned about forcing special needs student Kelly to remove the varsity jacket, Wichita East High School's principal Ken Thiessen stated, "Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket. We have considered it, and our decision was no. We decided that it is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity level competition."
This is much ado about nothing. Allowing a special needs student to wear a varsity jacket is not a big deal. It would show kindness. However, forcing him to remove the jacket is a big deal. It's an insult that needs to be rectified. Special needs students who play sports should be allowed to wear varsity jackets.
Principal forces student with Down syndrome to remove high school letter jacket
By Mike Foss March 27, 2015 1:26 pm ET - Michael Kelly is a high school student who plays on Wichita East’s special needs basketball team. His mother bought Kelly a letter jacket and a varsity letter to show his participation. But when Kelly, who has Down syndrome and autism, wore the jacket to school, he was forced to remove it and put on a sweatshirt instead. Why?
According to school principal Ken Thiessen, it’s because Kelly isn’t actually on the varsity team. “Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket,” Thiessen told KSN TV adding that he would not allow special needs teams to have letters. “We have considered it, and our decision was no. We decided that it is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity level competition.”
There isn’t a district policy prohibiting Wichita East from giving letters to special needs athletes. According to the KSN report, district athletic director J. Means told the Kelly family that when he oversaw athletics at Wichita Northwest, he allowed letters for special needs students. “It’s not just my son, It’s every student that was out there last night,” Michael’s mother Jolinda Kelly said. “It’s every student that is there on Fridays, that plays their hardest.”
Update: A Change.org petition asking Wichita East to allow special needs students to letter has over 10,000 signatures.