School Tells Autistic Boy: Take Off That Varsity Letter

Michael Kelley incident sparks debate on varsity jackets
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 29, 2015 2:00 PM CDT
Special-Needs Boy Told to Remove His Varsity Letter

Did Michael Kelley, a boy with Down Syndrome and autism, have his letter jacket taken off him at school? The accusation has triggered squabbling, an online petition, and debate about how to recognize special-needs children in high-school athletics in Wichita, Kansas, KSN reports. Michael's mom, Jolinda, first said a staff member asked him to remove the jacket: "Another parent, from what I am told, was upset that my son was wearing his letter jacket," she says. And while the incident did spark "a dialogue" with Wichita East High School, she says it led to no "tangible results." For his part, school principal Ken Thiessen admits that "teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket," but he later told KSN that no staff member removed it for him, as Jolinda claimed at a press conference yesterday.

So what's the big deal? Varsity athletes can wear jackets with a styled letter, while those who take part in special-needs basketball (like Michael) are awarded a letter that looks different, reports the Wichita Eagle. But Michael's parents bought him a varsity-letter jacket, which led to the incident. Now a petition is arguing that special-needs kids should get varsity letters too, and has nearly 41,000 supporters as of this writing. The Twitter-verse is buzzing in support of Michael (see #givethemletters), and a nearby high-school athletic director is taking Michael's side: "It was incredible, after he got the letter jacket it just sky-rocketed him to another level," he tells Inquisitr. "We can’t be cookie cutter. We have all kinds of kids with all kinds of different needs." (More Wichita stories.)

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