A special needs student at the Wichita East High School has been prohibited from wearing a varsity letterman jacket simply because he’s not on the varsity team.
Michael Kelley, 19, who has Down Syndrome and autism, plays basketball on his high school’s special needs team and proudly sports a letterman jacket that his mother bought for him.
But not everyone was as pleased as Michael about his letterman jacket, and he was forced to stop wearing it after a parent complained about the teenager wearing a basketball jacket and not being on the varsity team.
According to KSN, several teachers also voiced their concern, and told the parents of the special needs student that they’d prefer he not wear the letterman jacket.
“Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket,” says Ken Thiessen, principal at East High Principal.
KSN reports that Wichita East High had previously considered letting special needs students wear varsity letters, but because varsity letters are for varsity letter winners only, they were against it.
“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.”
That decision, however, is not shared by among all district schools as, according to KSN, Wichita Northwest provides varsity letters to special needs athletes.
Michael’s mother, Jolinda Kelly, stated that though she understands the rules, she does not understand why the policy can’t be changed.
“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 story has since garnered national attention and a petition has been started on Change.org for a revision of the policy regarding special needs students being able to wear varsity letters.
“I plan on presenting my petition at the BOE meeting in Wichita on Monday,” noted the petition’s organizer. “I would like at least 10,000 signatures and we have over 6,000 now. I am beyond proud of the response from our Kansas community and surrounding communities! Thank you to everyone who is supporting! #GiveThemLetters”
Thus far, the petition has gathered more than 34,000 signatures.
According to the Daily Mail, the principal and athletic director at Santana High School in Santana, Kansas, has even sent Michael one of their own varsity letter jackets to wear.
“Before he got the letter he was one of the biggest cheerleaders in the school it was incredible, after he got the letter jacket it just skyrocketed him to another level,” said principal Mark Calvin.
“We can’t be cookie cutter. We have all kinds of kids with all kinds of different needs and we need to be able to make our rules adjust to meet those needs,” he added.
“It’s a message to Michael that you can be a part of something anywhere you want to.”
[Image via KHQ]