As national backlash has rained down on Wichita East principal Ken Thiessen for forcing Michael Kelly, a student at the school with Down Syndrome, to remove a boy’s basketball varsity letter jacket, Thiessen has remained steadfast in his insistence that Kelly was not allowed to wear the jacket for a practical reason; Kelly was not a formal member of the team.
Now, the Wichita district school board has risked further furore by refusing to pass a rule that would require schools to give varsity letters to students with special needs. It, too, had a valid reason for the delay: It wants to wait on formal recommendations for the policy from the Tri-County Sports League, which is developing eligibility guidelines for special-needs students.
For it’s part, the Tri-County league itself admits that it is part of the reason behind the structural delays that could force another year to elapse before the varsity letter policies are put into effect.
“I realize we move at a snail’s pace with some of this stuff,” Bryan Wilson, chairman of the volunteer board, told the Wichita Eagle. “But we’re trying to make it as legitimate and as formal as we can.”
“I’m telling Michael, ‘You get to mow the lawn today,’ ” Jolinda Kelley, Michael Kelley’s mother, told the Eagle. “Last night he got two pieces of string cheese for his snack because that’s what he wanted.
“Michael is resilient, and he is a happy boy. He continues to be a happy boy and has no idea that this is affecting so many people.”