WICHITA, Kansas – Wichita East High School Principal Ken Thiessen posting a letter to the community on the East High School website Sunday. This is the content of that letter:
An open letter to the Wichita East High community from Principal Ken Thiessen:
I’ve had the opportunity to hear from students, parents, alums and folks from across the country over the last several days. For those of you who know the culture, concern and character of our school community as we embrace and value the diversity of ALL MEMBERS of our student body, thank you. For those who hadn’t had the opportunity to know the East High community, and who question what happened with respect to the letter jacket of an East High student, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some thoughts with you.
I am honored to lead the largest and one of the most diverse high schools in Kansas. Last year we were named the Best Public High School in Kansas by US News and World Report. Many have said, “the world walks in our hallways” as you observe the amazing differences of our students. However, one thing unites us all and that is the respect and concern that we show for one another as part of the Blue Aces Nation. Nowhere was this more evident than last Wednesday, prior to media coverage, when students of all abilities came together to cheer for our special needs students on our Tri-County basketball team as they competed against our Tri-County alumni in the East High gym. Our student athletes competed with gusto as the EHS band played, the announcer called the game, cheerleaders supported the team and our student body and parents cheered the teams on the court. The Tri-County teams celebrated our Blue Ace 6A Varsity Basketball State Champions during halftime. THIS is the Blue Aces Nation!
Since the Tri-County league was created five years ago, East High has honored student participants with letters and pins celebrating years of participation. I have fully supported the work that has been underway the last nine months by the Tri-County league’s board to develop an athletic lettering program that creates league-wide standards for Tri-County athletes to earn an athletic letter and recommend a letter design. If the league’s recommendation is that the letter looks just like each school’s varsity athletic letter, I can and will support that as well. Yes a comment was made about a year ago to Mr. Kelley’s parent concerning the appropriateness of the letter on the jacket; however he has continued to wear his East High letter jacket in the hallways of our school. Our students work hard to earn the letters, medallions, honor cords and other visible symbols that represent their achievements in high school, and I love to see that school pride displayed in our hallways.
As the leader of this school, I understand that taking criticism for my actions and decisions comes with the job. What I can’t accept, however, are the horrible comments from people who have no idea what East High is really all about. Suggesting that our school doesn’t support and embrace special needs students is simply not reflective or indicative of the culture we have in our building. Our administrators, our teachers and staff, as well as our entire student body value ALL of our students. This is continually demonstrated in our activities, our celebrations, our honors and the daily way our school conducts itself.
For those of you who don’t know East High, please take an opportunity to learn about us before you judge us based on one story that originated approximately a year ago. Our graduates have shaped the history of Wichita for more than 100 years, and our students today give me great faith that our proud East High legacy will continue for years to come.
FOLLOW THE TIMELINE OF THIS STORY:
- 4/05: Michael Kelley gets special treatment in San Antonio
- 4/02: Tri County League says special needs athletes will earn the same varsity letter
- 4/01: Rhode Island athlete collects varsity letters for Kansas boy with special needs
- 3/30: Mother of special needs athlete holds presser after USD 259 BOE meeting
- 3/30: USD 259 School Board hears from parents about varsity letters for special needs kids
- 3/30: Special needs student letter debate sparks social media uproar
- 3/29: USD 259 Superintendent lays out expectations for Mondays BOE meeting
- 3/29: USD 259 Superintendent talks about alternative sports recognition
- 3/29: East High principal responds to varsity letter controversy
- 3/28: Mom of special needs son fights for change in USD 259 district policy
- 3/28: Chicago Bulls assistant coach supports Michael Kelley
- 3/27: Debate continues over East High letter policy for special needs athletes
- 3/27: Schools reach out to special needs athlete
- 3/27: Local organization says inclusion vital to special needs kids
- 3/27: School district responds to student story
- 3/27: Students create petition for East High student to earn varsity letter
- 3/26: Mom says special needs son at East High told to remove his varsity letter