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Daines throws support behind Billings student with special needs

Posted at 3:52 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 18:03:53-04

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines has jumped into the controversy involving a Billings special-needs student, urging the school board to allow 19-year-old Emily Pennington to graduate with her West High class.

Daines, a Montana Republican, said he wrote a letter to the school board after speaking with her mother, Jana Pennington.

“I am writing to request you promptly amend District Policy 2050 for Billings West High School Junior, Ms. Emily Pennington. Parents and trustees alike understand the importance of a high school diploma for the prospects and success of Montana students. I am a steadfast supporter of local control but have been moved to write given the circumstances of this case, and as a matter of principle. Emily should have the opportunity to graduate from Billings West with her classmates, and I respectfully ask the School Board to do everything within your power to make that possible,” Daines wrote.

Pennington, a junior who has Down syndrome, is ineligible to graduate with her class because she is too old, according to Billings School District 2 policy.

While the Montana Legislature passed a bill granting money to schools for special-needs students up to the age of 21, the Billings school district has elected to opt out. Superintendent Greg Upham has said allowing older students to graduate could set a bad precedent and threaten funding for the district.

As a member of Congress, Daines has no formal role on whether Pennington is allowed to graduate. The Billings school board is meeting 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss the issue but is not expected to take a formal vote.

Read the full letter below:

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