A Wichita high school student with special needs was asked to stop wearing his beloved jacket with a varsity letter sewn on it, because another parent complained that he wasn’t really a varsity athlete, KSN (Wichita) is reporting.
Michael Kelley, who has Down syndrome and autism, participates in special-needs athletics at Wichita East High School. His mother, Jolinda Kelley, bought her adopted son, Michael, a jacket with the Wichita East varsity letter on it, and she says Michael wore it proudly.
That is until another parent complained.
According to WWLP, school administrators asked Michael to stop wearing his jacket because he’s not an “official” varsity athlete.
“Another parent, from what I am told, was upset that my son was wearing his letter jacket.”
School administrators offered him a shirt instead.
As it turns out, Wichita East High School has an official policy that only varsity athletes are allowed to wear letter jackets. Since Michael’s extra-curricular special-needs athletics program isn’t considered “official” varsity sports, he’s not allowed to wear the letter jacket, according to school policy.
East High Principal Ken Thiessen confirmed that only varsity athletes are allowed to wear letter jackets and that school administrators won’t allow Michael to wear his.
“Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket.”
When a KSN reporter suggested to the principal that maybe an exception could be made for a special-needs student, he refused to budge.
“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.”
While public schools try to be accommodating to special needs students, sometimes such students find that their schools’ accommodations will only go so far. Or even worse, the kids may find themselves subject to harassment, bullying, and even outright verbal and physical abuse, not just from their peers, but even from school administrators.
KSN reached out to members of the Wichita School Board to see if exceptions to the varsity requirement could be made so special-needs students, such as Michael Kelley, could wear letter jackets. At least one board member, Lynn Rogers, is on board with the idea.
“I would definitely be willing to look at it and be sure that kids are being treated fairly.”
Jolinda Kelley says that she wants all special needs students to be able to wear varsity jackets, not just her son.
“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.”
As of this post, the parent who complained about special needs student Michael Kelley wearing a varsity letter jacket he didn’t “earn” has not been identified and has not spoken publicly.
[Image courtesy of: KSN]