Saturday, April 4, 2015

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume XLVII: The #GiveThemLetters Edition

I HATE that positive change so often has to come through the ugly path of public shame and bitter quarreling.  Too many of the situations exposed in these Saturday posts so clearly reveal that we dwell in a desperately broken, depraved world.

By now you have perhaps grown tired of the story of Michael Kelley, a Kansas teenager with Down Syndrome, who was bullied by staff at his high school, insisting he could not wear a varsity letter on a jacket his mother had bought for him because he was not technically part of a varsity team at that school.  The instructor involved even had the audacity to say to Kelley's mother that he had not "earned" the letter.  Never mind the fact that Michael was part of the special needs basketball team and wildly proud of his school.

Photo image taken from Libby Hastings' page in honor of Michael
Further agitating the situation has been principal, Ken Thiessan's flippant attitude about the matter.  He disputes that Michael was ever told to take his jacket off, and seems to find no trouble with it because, "it happened more than a year ago."  I wonder if this man realizes that his public attitude had made him look like an oppressor of the disabled.

Thankfully, we seem to be doing a much better job of training up our children in the ways of acceptance and inclusion.  One of Kelley's classmates, Libby Hastings, turned her outrage into action by starting a petition requesting that special needs teams within her district be issued varsity letters for their school sponsored teams.  As of this date, the petition has received over 62,000 signatures. 

Hastings' actions, along with the MANY media interviews of Michael's dedicated mother must have finally been the "squeaky wheel" that these school administrators and staff could no longer ignore.  Since the school didn't have the decency to honor Michael's garb out of simple human compassion, the matter escalated to the next level.  After a March 30th school board meeting, league chairman Bryan Wilson stated that finalization of a plan to issue students in the Tri-County league varsity letters of their own would take place the evening of April 2nd.  

While it is good that the issue has been resolved for these hard-working, worthy kids, I still find myself frustrated by stories like this one.  Our culture likes to fool itself into thinking that we are so evolved, so much more compassionate than our ancestors.  The truth to me seems that while we have taken great strides in passing laws on special education and public access, these are a thinly veiled battlefield on which we still fight every day.  You cannot legislate compassion and acceptance.  Hearts and minds must be changed lovingly every single day by exposure and inclusion of our remarkable children.

Keep fighting this good fight, parents.  YOU are God's tools to eventually turn the world's hearts of stones to pliable, loving hearts that forever embrace those with chronic illness, special needs, and disability.

Sources:  "Wichita East student’s petition for special-needs student recognition draws more than 33,000 signatures," The Wichita Eagle, March 28, 2015, and
"Students in special-needs sports league to get varsity letters," The Wichita Eagle, April 1, 2015

1 comment:

  1. A salute to all parents who keep on keeping on.
    The world is so much better because of people like you. :)