By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
In yet another example of insensitive, zero-tolerance approaches, school faculty members of Wichita East High in Wichita, Kansas reportedly compelled a special needs student athlete having both Down syndrome and autism to remove a varsity letter his mother bought for him. He was given instead a girl’s sweater to wear.
School officials stated he could not wear the varsity letter because he was not a member of the varsity team. Apparently they were forced to act upon this transgression because “one parent complained” and therefore no exception could be made for this student.
Nineteen year old Michael Kelley participates in extra-curricular basketball. His family bought him a varsity letter similar to what other students at the high school wear as a tribute to honor his athletic achievements.
Michael’s mother, Jolinda Kelley, says her adopted son is one of a kind and loves to play basketball. When Michael was recognized by the school for participating in the special needs team, she bought a varsity letter and sewed it to his jacket. She was shocked to learn he was asked by the school to take off the jacket.
The letter of the law seems to apply strictly to varsity letters.
Wichita East High School Principal Ken Thiessen in an interview with KSN news: “Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket.”
When asked if the school would consider giving a varsity letter to special needs students he replied:
“We have considered it, and our decision was no. We decided that is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity level competition.”
KSN discovered this was not a district-wide policy. The high school seemed to be acting on its own accord.
Jolinda says she understands each school can make the rules, but she wants to see a change.
“It’s not just my son. It’s every student that was out there last night. It’s every student that’s there on Fridays that plays their hardest and to the best of their capability regardless what that is.”
The question remains as to why a varsity letter is such a hallowed emblem that it cannot be tarnished by having someone wearing one who is not a member of the athletic club. Free speech issues aside, how about showing some compassion or at least looking the other way? It is doubtful the majority of students themselves would act with such rigidity to Michael’s choice to wear a letterman jacket.
But if rules must be followed regarding uniforms those with special needs cannot participate in the Police Chief / Sheriff For a Day programs because those kids are not true law enforcement officers.
Now that this has hit the national news media, the administration of Wichita East High School will soon be tempest-tossed by the media storm on the horizon.
By Darren Smith
Detroit Free Press, Photo Credit
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