USD 259 Superintendent talks about alternative sports recognition

John Allison (KSN File Photo)

WICHITA, Kansas — Wichita’s school superintendent says he welcomes discussion after a controversy over special needs athletes not getting varsity letters has put Wichita in the national spotlight.

Thousands of people are demanding action from Wichita schools after KSN broke the story of a special needs student on Thursday. It started with one mother who was upset about the treatment of her child. But she says it is a much bigger issue.

On Sunday, we took her concerns to USD 259 superintendent John Allison.

An impassioned Jolinda Kelley told KSN about her son Michael, making it clear that the issue of the letter on his jacket is all about allowing special needs kids the chance to earn a varsity letter.

“What we want is for all special ed students to earn a varsity letter,” said Kelley.

KSN asked Superintendent John Allison if there should be a different letter for special needs kids.

“You are talking two different leagues — school organization, outside organization –earning those letters looks different,” said Allison.

Allison points out that Michael plays in a special needs league that is run by the Tri-County League, even though the students play on teams that represent their school. For now, he says, the recognition is different.

But Michael’s mom pointed out, regardless the league special needs athletes play in, some schools in USD 259 are offering special needs kids the same letter as varsity athletes.

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Click image to view letter

“That opportunity already exists in many schools throughout Kansas and even in the 259 district,” said Kelley. “It does not exist at East High.”

Again, we asked Superintendent John Allison if there should be a district-wide policy. He pointed out that each school makes their own rules but says it could be considered.

“It’s something that, probably, we will have a conversation around — exactly what are some of those unique considerations from building to building — as part of a future discussion.”
It is that discussion of a district-wide policy that Jolina says is important. After all, she says, earning a varsity letter should be about more than just athletic ability.

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

KSN also asked Superintendent Allison if he’s asking board members to consider changing the policy.

“My recommendation at this point in time would be, let’s see what the Tri-County league, who operates these events for our students, let’s see what their recommendations are.”

While other school officials have emailed the family about this policy, Allison says he has not yet spoken to the Kelleys.

Finally, we asked Allsion what he would say to Jolinda, Micheal and the family.

“I can understand frustration in that I’d like the answer tomorrow, but this is a volunteer league and their board has been working through a process of developing criteria and how does this fit with their league goals and how can we best support them.”

THE TRI-COUNTY LEAGUE

The special needs league Michael belongs to is called the Tri-County league. It has been around for about 14 years. It started with just a couple teams but has grown to 15 teams. Many of the teams are made up of athletes representing their own high school.

The league has been working on creating its own letter for to recognize student efforts, but it would be different from the school’s varsity sports letters. It is a process that has been in the works for the past nine months.

USD 259’s Executive Director of Student Support Services, Bryan Wilson, also sits on the board for the Tri-County League. He tells us they want to be deliberate in the process of creating the criteria for how students can earn the letter.

“While I am the biggest supporter of inclusion, and making sure our students with disabilities know that this is their community, we would want it to look different because it represents something bigger than just athletics,” said Wilson.

Officials tell KSN they expect to have their own criteria for the special needs athletic letter completed by the end of the school year.

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