30 Laws in 30 Days: Families to receive diplomas for deceased high school seniors

By Abrahm Hurt

Editor’s note: This is the 23rd in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.

INDIANAPOLIS — Jerrold Parker was only weeks away from finishing his classes at Pike High School when he was murdered in Indianapolis on February 3, 2016.

“It feels like there is something missing in my home,” Sanekah Jackson-Jones, his mother said. “There’s not a day that I don’t think about him or wish I was in a nightmare.”

After his death, she went to the school board to see if they would issue her son a posthumous diploma. The school said Parker did not have enough credits.

“My son wanted nothing more than to give me his diploma,” she said, said. “That was everything he was aiming for to make me smile because in my family, no man had graduated in 20 years.”

She ended up receiving a certificate of recognition for her son, but she felt like he deserved more.

“I just know the things that I went through, on top of grieving, that it was just kind of heartbreaking,” she said. “I just felt like something needed to be done because I don’t want this happening to any other parent here in Indiana.”

Jones began doing more research on posthumous diplomas when a man in Texas, who had also lost his son during his senior year, reached out to her. Jacob Upchurch had read an article on Parker’s murder and noticed he wasn’t going to receive his diploma even though he was on track to graduate.

Upchurch and his wife were able to use a Texas state law to receive their son’s diploma, and he wanted to see the same done for Jones. The law allowed high school seniors who died to be awarded a diploma if they were on track to graduate. But Upchurch faced his own battle to receive his son’s diploma and knew he wanted to help Jones.

“We settled for nothing less than for our son to receive his diploma and took House Bill 1563, Jennifer’s Law to the school board and the ruling was promptly reversed,” Upchurch wrote in a petition to Indiana Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis. “My wife walked the stage for our son and we proudly display his diploma on the mantel in our home.”

Upchurch started a petition in Indiana on change.org that received more than 11,000 supporters and helped Jones get in contact with Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, who is Jones’s legislator.

House Enacted Bill 1384, set to take effect on July 1st, requires schools to issue a posthumous diploma to requesting parents of a student who dies during their senior year of high school as long as the student was on track to graduate.

Jones said she was content with the certificate that she received from Pike High School. She did think about getting his diploma, but she decided getting the bill passed was a larger victory.

“I was just happy it got done and I was a part of that,” she said. “I just know my son’s smiling and appreciates that I went through that for him.”

Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


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