Student with Special Needs Asked to Remove Varsity Letter, Per School Policy

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2015

Basketballs head through the hoops in the practice session for Lafayette  for an NCAA college basketball second round game in Pittsburgh Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

A heated debate is brewing in Wichita, Kansas, as a high school athlete with special needs has been prohibited from wearing a varsity letterman jacket at Wichita East High School. 

According to Craig Andres of KSN.com, Michael Kelley, who has both Down Syndrome and autism, has been asked to stop wearing a varsity basketball letter on his jacket.

Kelley's family bought him the letter, but since he competes in extracurricular special needs basketball rather than varsity basketball, principal Ken Thiessen has ruled on the side of school policy and asked that he remove the letter, per Andres.

"We have considered it, and our decision was no," Thiessen said. "We decided that is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity level competition."

Thiessen revealed, per Andres, that teachers took issue with Kelley wearing the letter.

"Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket," Thiessen said.

Kelley's mother, Jolinda Kelley, is hopeful there will be consideration into a district-wide policy in favor of recognizing athletes with special needs with varsity letters, per Andres.

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"It's not just my son. It's every student that was out there last night," she said. "It's every student that's there on Fridays that plays their hardest and to the best of their capability regardless what that is."

While it isn't unusual for a school to adhere strictly to policy, it is easy to see why some are calling for an exception to be made in the case of Kelley and other athletes with special needs.

Wichita East High School has been resistant thus far, but making a change may ultimately prove to be the best move for everyone involved.

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