Mom Calls for Change After School Tells Special Needs Son to Shed Varsity Jacket

A Kansas mother is calling on a local high school to change its policy on varsity letters after her special needs son was asked to remove his jacket. 

Jolinda Kelley, of Wichita Kansas, told NBC affiliate KSN  that she bought a varsity letter for her son, Michael Kelley, who has Down Syndrome and autism. While Michael Kelley is not a varsity athlete, he participates in extra-curricular special needs basketball.

The coat that his family bought him is an official Wichita East High School varsity letter jacket, but only varsity athletes can wear the letter, according to East High’s policy.

Michael was asked to take the jacket off, and was given a sweatshirt to wear instead, his mother told the station. 

East High Principal Ken Thiessen acknowledged to KSN that "teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket.”

When KSN followed up to ask if the school would consider giving a varsity letter to a special needs student he responded, “ 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,” he said.

There is no district-wide policy in Wichita, so Thiessen’s building is allowed to make the decision that varsity letters can only be worn by varsity letter winners, the station reported.  However, some school board members say they are open to reevaluating the policy. Jolinda Kelley hopes that happens. 

“It’s not just my son... It’s every student that’s there on Friday that plays their hardest and to the best of their capability regardless of what that is,” Jolinda Kelley said.

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