A Kansas high school and its principal were the target of fierce social media backlash Friday after a local television station reported that a student with autism and Down syndrome was told to remove his varsity letter jacket.
Principal Ken Thiessen of Wichita East High School reportedly told the student’s mother that varsity letter jackets are reserved for varsity team members. Her son Michael Kelley plays extra-curricular, special-needs basketball, so his family bought him a jacket. But he was asked not to wear it at school after another parent complained, according to the local news outlet KSN.
According to KSN, Thiessen said the school had considered giving varsity letters to special-needs students, but then opted against it. “We decided that is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity level competition,” he told the station.
The KSN story sparked outrage across social media, with some Twitter users saying the high school had become a national embarrassment. Others posted the school’s phone number and urged fellow Twitter users to call Thiessen and complain.
A petition on Change.org, which is calling on the school administration to revise its varsity letter policy, attracted more than 6,000 signatures in just a few hours. “Special-needs students deserve the right to have the same recognition as every other student,” the petition’s creator wrote.
School officials were not immediately available to comment.
According to KSN, schools in Wichita set their own varsity letter policies, and there is no district-wide standard.
A number of local and national media outlets picked up the story, as well. Pete Grathoff, a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, wrote in a blog post Friday, “This is a wrong that someone is going to right.”
â€” Sporting News (@sportingnews) March 27, 2015
Read the full KSN story here.