Michael Kelly is a high school student who plays on Wichita East’s special needs basketball team. His mother bought Kelly a letter jacket and a varsity letter to show his participation. But when Kelly, who has Down syndrome and autism, wore the jacket to school, he was forced to remove it and put on a sweatshirt instead.
According to school principal Ken Thiessen, it’s because Kelly isn’t actually on the varsity team.
“Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket,” Thiessen told WKSN TV adding that he would not allow special needs teams to have letters. “We have considered it, and our decision was no. We decided that it is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity level competition.”
This is not just a story about special needs and cruelty (though it is also that), but about the ways that disability often points at the power of hierarchy and compliance in our school system (and beyond). By existing and demanding inclusion, people with disabilities reveal the ways in which we accept all kinds of inequality in other circumstances.
This is the power of the cult of compliance. It pushes people like this principal to enforce rules against individuals clearly not trying to game the system, but who just want to belong, because to do otherwise would betray the principle that compliance is the highest virtue.
For those readers unfamiliar with the “cult of compliance” – Start here. Then search “compliance” on the blog for much much more.
Edit: Apparently it was another parent who complained and prompted this. I have no printable words for that parent.