Mom says special needs son at East High told to remove his varsity letter

Teachers told the parents of a special needs child they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket.

Michael Kelley

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WICHITA, Kansas (KSNW) – A Wichita woman claims her special needs son was asked to remove his letter jacket at school.

The student, Michael Kelley, has Down Syndrome and autism. Kelley is not a varsity athlete but participates in extra-curricular special needs basketball.

His family bought him a varsity letter like the other kids wear, but recently, his mother says he was asked to not wear the jacket.

Michael Kelley
Michael Kelley

Turns out, the letter is an official Wichita East High School varsity letter, and East High says he is not supposed to have that letter.

KSN talked to his mother Jolinda Kelley. She says Michael, her adopted son, is one of a kind and loves to play basketball.

When he was recognized for participating, Jolinda bought a varsity letter and put that letter on the jacket.

She was shocked when she says he was asked at school to take the jacket off.

“Another parent, from what I am told, was upset that my son was wearing his letter jacket.”

The mother claims her son was asked to take that jacket off and was given a sweat shirt to wear instead.

The family says it was told only varsity teams can wear the letter according to East High’s policy.

East High Principal Ken Thiessen says, “Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket.”

Thiessen pointed out his special needs teachers do a lot of volunteer work, like organizing basketball games, and he appreciates their efforts.

KSN also asked Thiessen if the school would consider giving a varsity letter to special needs kids.

Ken Thiessen, Wichita East High Principal
Ken Thiessen, Wichita East High Principal

“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.”

Thiessen says his building decided varsity letters would be for varsity letter winners only. KSN found out that there is no district-wide policy in Wichita.

The family turned to J. Means, USD 259’s Athletic Director. He told the family that when he was the athletic director at Northwest High their policy was to allow special needs students to earn letters, just like other athletes.

KSN reached out to school board members to ask if they would consider making a district-wide policy.

“I would definitely be willing to look at it and be sure that kids are being treated fairly,” said Lynn Rogers, USD 259 Board Member.

As for Jolinda, she says she understands each school can make the rules, but she wants to see a rule change.

“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.”

KSN reached out to USD 259 Superintendent John Allison. He was in meetings today.

Michael Kelley, Jason Krippen
Michael Kelley and Jason Krippen (courtesy Jolinda Kelley)

East High will celebrate the varsity basketball team winning state this year, and the team will be recognized by the school board Monday night.

Jolinda Kelley held a press conference at Sedgwick County Park’s Boundless Playground to share their perspective on East High School’s policies involving special needs athletes. That press conference happened at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

During the press conference, Jolinda addressed several issues and answered questions to the media. If you would like to view the notes from the press conference, click here.

KSN will continue to follow this story and will be at the meeting to ask school board members about special needs students and varsity letters.

We’ve received hundreds of emails asking how they can support Michael Kelley by sending in their letter or letter jacket. You can send items to the PO Box below:

Miracle League of Wichita Kansas
ATTN: Michael Kelley
PO Box 624
Andover, KS 67002

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