The mother of a high school student with special needs claims her son was asked not to wear his beloved letter jacket anymore, and despite her protests, the school stands by their decision.
Jolinda Kelley says her teen son Michael, who has Down’s syndrome and autism, is not a varsity athlete at Wichita East High School, but he does play extra-curricular special needs basketball and adores the sport. To make him feel special after recently being honored for his playing, Michael’s family bought him a varsity letter jacket so that he could be like the other kids, but not long after, the school asked him not to wear the jacket anymore.
According to reports, the school asked him to take it off when another parent came to them saying that it wasn’t appropriate.
“Another parent, from what I am told, was upset that my son was wearing his letter jacket,” Jolinda Kelley told KSN.
The school reportedly asked Michael to take the jacket off and gave him a sweatshirt to wear instead because, according to them, only varsity athletes can wear a letter jacket.
“Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket,” East High Principal Ken Thiessen said, noting that they did discuss letting him wear it because he has special needs. “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.”
Despite the school’s claims, KSN reports that there is actually no district-wide policy on who can wear letter jackets.
Frustrated, Jolinda Kelley turned to USD 259’s Athletic Director J. Means, who told them that when he was athletic director at a different high school, he allowed for special needs students to earn letter jackets just like other athletes.
Now, the school board says they are investigating the decision at East High and will make sure that students like Michael are treated right.
“I would definitely be willing to look at it and be sure that kids are being treated fairly,” USD 259 board member Lynn Rogers told KSN.
Jolinda Kelley says she hopes that by speaking out about their experience, the rules can change to honor all athletes.
“It’s not just my son,” Jolinda said, referring to the rest of the special needs athletes. “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.”