SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Caddo Parish Schools have announced a new district-wide policy that will allow a student who passed away in March to be recognized at what would have been her graduation ceremony later this month.

The new policy comes after an online petition that has gathered more than 17,000 signatures in the 24 hours since it was created Thursday afternoon, calling for the school to reverse what it says was the principal’s decision not to allow a seat to remain vacant in honor of Mackenzie Jewitt at the upcoming graduation ceremony on May 26.

According to the petition, the C.E. Byrd senior unexpectedly passed away on March 24.

“Mr. Jerry Badgley, the principal of Byrd, has denied Mackenzie’s parents’ request of honoring her at graduation by simply leaving a seat vacant for her and calling her name as an honorary graduate with a moment of silence. Although many principals within Caddo Parish have honored their students in the past by doing this very thing, Mr. Badgley states that he does not want to honor her because other parents and other students may take offense to it and that it would be a mental distraction from the ceremony and the students,” according to petition creator Raylette Pinkston.

“What is happening at CE Byrd high school is a tragedy,” said a statement released Friday morning by People’s Promise Youth Division before the district’s policy announcement.

Every student in Caddo Parish should be honored at graduation. The People’s Promise Youth Division urges Dr. Goree and the Caddo Parish School Board to push Mr. Bagley to honor Mackenzie Jewitt at CE Byrd’s graduation. Mackenzie’s hard work and dedication to Byrd should not be ignored, and her life should be honored and celebrated by her peers and teachers at the school’s graduation. High schools across the nation historically have honored students that have had unexpected passings, and Mr. Badgley should do the same. Parents and students should not have to create a petition for their passed loved ones to be honored. All Caddo Parish School principals should have the sympathy and good heart to honor all students that have graduated. All principals have the responsibility to honor and cherish the lives of all students in Caddo Parish. ‘We Are Caddo’ is the Caddo Schools motto. We will not be part of a Caddo that actively seeks to exclude Mackenzie.

Breka People’s, People’s Promise Youth Division

“Caddo Parish Public Schools is committed to honoring the life and legacy of former students that pass during their high school years,” the school district said in a statement announcing the new policy.

“In doing so, a new procedure that applies to district high school graduation ceremonies will include a vacant chair to honor where the passed student would have been seated and their name will be listed in the program and called out in alphabetical order. A parent or designee may also receive the diploma or honorary diploma on stage during the ceremony.”

The school district says the procedure will go into effect immediately for all 2022 graduations.

Jewitt was a heart transplant recipient who played on the Lady Jackets basketball team and was in the marching band, according to the change.org petition.