The family of a Kansas City teenage girl who died by suicide in 2016 says that her name deserves to be read aloud at what would have been her upcoming high school graduation in May.
But Harrison School District — which 15-year-old Gabi Keil attended for 11 years — says they won’t allow it.
“She was part of that graduating class and they should recognize her,” Gabi’s sister, Jennifer Keil, tells PEOPLE. “This would be the closure to her high school days.”
Gabi always struggled with depression, her sister says, but still had many passions — including science, photography and poetry.
On October 27, 2016, Gabi ended her own life — just one day after posting on Facebook that she “wanted to kill herself.”
“By the time I saw the post it was too late,” Jennifer says.
The school district tells PEOPLE that the graduation ceremony will have a remembrance chair with a cap and gown draped over it to honor Gabi.
“In addition, we will print her name in the graduation program in a section titled ‘In Memory of Classmates Lost,’ they wrote in a statement. “To respectfully recognize all students, the district has worked to make our memorial practices at graduation similar, ensuring that the way a student passes away does not change the way we honor him/her.”
They added: “The students lost in the recent years were the victims of murder and a car wreck. It is important that the district be consistent in our recognition at graduation ceremonies — now and in the future — so that all are honored equally.”
But having an empty chair is going to make the reminder of Gabi’s passing even worse for her family, says Jennifer.
“We can look at it, see it, but can’t talk about it,” she says. “I can’t imagine what it will be like for the student sitting next to an empty chair.”
Motivated to get the high school to change their mind, Jennifer started an online petition that since has brought in over 23,000 signatures. Her parents, who are devastated over the loss of their daughter, are also in support of the petition.
“It blows me away,” she says. “I never thought it would get this big. When I saw how many people signed it I started to cry.”
Adds Jennifer: “Gabi shouldn’t be left out.”