Special needs student told he can't wear varsity letter jacket

Kevin Kaduk

Officials at Wichita East High School in Kansas are under fire after a special needs student was told he could not wear a varsity letter jacket because he was not competing at a varsity level.

Michael Kelley, who has Down syndrome and autism, participates on Wichita East's special needs basketball team, an extra-curricular activity organized by the school's special needs teachers. His mother, Jolinda Kelley, bought her son a letter jacket and varsity letter to mark her son's participation.

According to Jolinda, Michael was asked to remove the jacket while at school and given a sweatshirt to wear instead. As reported by Wichita TV station WKSN, Jolinda says she was told another parent complained that Michael wasn't a varsity athlete and therefore shouldn't be wearing a varsity letter jacket. 

It was a view that was backed up by Wichita East principal Ken Thiessen in an interview on KSN.

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

According to Thiessen, the school does not award letters to special needs students

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

Another school in the district, Wichita Northwest, does award letters to special needs students. A school district board member named Lynn Rogers tells the station that the board is willing to consider making special needs students eligible for letters district wide. 

The Wichita East basketball team won the Kansas Class 6A state championship this year.

It's pretty mind-boggling that a parent would be so petty to make this demand and that a high school adminstrator — who's ostensibly in charge of teaching his students good qualities like acceptance, empathy and compassion  — would stand behind that decision.

For those who believe Michael Kelley should be allowed to wear his letter jacket, a Change.org petition has been started. You can sign it here.

Hopefully some common sense will prevail at some point.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!