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I recently read an article on CNN about an athlete at East High School in Kansas who has Down Syndrome and Autism. It had recently been voted by the school board that he can no longer wear a varsity basketball letter on his jacket. Special needs student and athlete Michael Kelley regularly competes in extracurricular special needs basketball instead of varsity basketball for his high school.

ff31e849b31446978557d77df8dd8afb1-e1427407968839School principal Ken Thiessen stated that “teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket.” Kelley had obtained the letter because his parents had bought it for him after he was recognized for being on the team, so technically he never earned it. I understand why the school is not allowing him to wear it because if you think about it, it’s like giving any student at the school a varsity letter and allowing him or her to wear it.

I also understand that schools are required to abide by particular policies, but I think they should make an exception for this boy. Regardless of his physical capabilities, he should be able to have the satisfaction of wearing the letter. He obviously loves the game and tried to be a part of it in any way possible.

In the news, we hear more about people helping students and athletes with special needs and not so much about people putting them down. I think that’s why this story shocked me a little bit. When I saw the picture, I was expecting a story about a special needs boy getting in the varsity game on his senior night or something. Definitely not about the school voting to take his letter away.

I believe this can be considered unfair treatment. It seems to me from reading different articles that these special needs students, at this high school anyway, have almost no chance to earn a varsity letter. The family had met with the former Athletic Director of Northwest High School, and he said that their policy clearly stated that special needs athletes can earn varsity letters, and that’s how it should be. What would your decision be if you were on the school board? Keep in mind the school policies. Would you motion to change the policies to allow special needs athletes to earn varsity letters?

The CNN article contains a little information on the incident. To read more about it, the local news station published a longer story with more details. Click here >