BILLINGS — Trustees on the Billings School Board voted to raise the age a student can still attend high school from 19 to 20 at its Monday night board meeting.
The board's decision means West High School junior with Down syndrome, Emily Pennington, will be allowed an extra year to finish out her time in high school.
Trustees voted 5-3 to amend Policy 2050 in the sometimes raucous meeting that received frequent interruption from parents advocating for the change.
Voting in favor were trustees Jennifer Hoffman, Scott McCulloch, Russ Hall, Brian Yates and Mike Leo. Trustees Janna Hafer, Zack Terakedis and Chair Greta Besch Moen voted in opposition. Trustee Tawnya Ludwig was absent from the meeting.
The new policy states that the district won't admit anyone who is 20-years-old on or before Sept. 10 of the year to be enrolled. It states the exception is for special needs students called out in Montana HB 233, a new state law aimed at expanding education access for special needs students to enroll on a case-by-case basis.
Trustees were able to put the amended policy on the books straight away on Monday night after a majority vote suspended the board's three reading policy for the evening.
It's still unknown how much money it would cost the district to educate students who might need an extra year.
Besch-Moen said she's spoke with state legislators who wrote HB 233 and others who voted for it and they're not agreeing on who would pay the majority of the cost: local taxpayers in the district, or the state Office of Public Instruction.
Superintendent Greg Upham has said for the estimated 62 special needs students in the district to have additional time in school could cost the district $1.1 million after $600,000 is contributed by the state.