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Meet Emily Pennington: a student with Down syndrome who wants to graduate with her friends

“I would like to move on, to have my normal life and to graduate with my class in 2023,” Emily Pennington, an 18-year-old student at West High School, told her school board during a special meeting. “I like to be in high school because I like to cheer at games, be with my friends and to learn new things to help me become an adult.”

And now, it looks like Emily will be able to do just that. 

On Monday night, the Billings School Board voted to amend an aging-out policy that would have prevented Emily, a student with Down syndrome, from graduating with her classmates. The policy stated that students over the age of 19 were not eligible to enroll in classes. Now, students up to the age of 20 can attend school—which means that Emily can finish her senior year in 2023.

Since October, Jana Pennington (Emily's mom) had been filing requests to allow Emily to attend school for one more year. She also posted about the issue on Facebook. Jana's story went viral—with tons of people sending their support for Emily and her family. (The community even set up a change.org petition, which received over 160,000 signatures!)

Emily even captured the attention of Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines. Sen. Daines addressed school-board trustees in a letter, asking them to change the aging-out rule. Another letter, signed by over 32 Montana senators and representatives, asked the school board to simply "[Do] the right thing."

In a March board meeting to discuss the policy, Emily herself made a speech (check it out below)—and she received a standing ovation. We are so proud of her for advocating for herself. Her courage is unbelievably moving, and we are *so* happy that she received the positive outcome she deserves.

Slider and top image via change.org

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by Olivia Brown | 4/20/2022
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