Cult of Compliance: Boy with Down Syndrome Forced to Remove Letter Jacket

USA Today Sports has a new piece on a boy with Down syndrome forced to remove a letter jacket. His mother had bought him the jacket, he loved it, but because he’s not a “real” varsity player, the principal made him take it off. From the story:

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.

2 Replies to “Cult of Compliance: Boy with Down Syndrome Forced to Remove Letter Jacket”

  1. BeachN says:

    Oh so I guess what the principal is trying to say is the feeling of being "SPECIAL" should only be allowed if you have the intelligence to play REAL ball? God forbid we hand over that feeling on a silver platter to someone who will never be as capable as the Varsity players. It's just not right is it?? I would like to tell that principal to just walk a day in that young man's shoes and understand what little it takes to make kids like Michael happy. I know first hand what it takes.. I have a mentally challenged son who has always wished he could be just like his "Normal" brother. Who the hell is this principal to tell him he cannot wear that jacket because he is not like the boys on the varsity team???

  2. Jean says:

    This is absolutely disgusting. No wonder the USA is so fouled up with authority figures like this teaching our children.

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