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Mom succeeds in changing state law to allow diplomas for deceased seniors

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- An Indianapolis mom has succeeded in honoring her son with a change to state law.

Sanekah Jackson-Jones lost her son, Jerrold Parker, Jr., last year after he was shot and killed just months before his high school graduation. FOX59 met Jackson-Jones at a Pike Township school board meeting, where she pushed the district to give her her son's diploma.

"He went to school all those years, so I feel like it’s something that’s really necessary for him. I feel like it’s something you guys should really think about and consider," Jackson-Jones said at the time.

The district did consider it, and ended up awarding Jackson-Jones with a posthumous certificate. She wanted more for the families who would come after her, though.

"I don’t want any parents to ever go through that loss and then have to go through another loss of not being able to get something that means so much to the whole family," Jackson-Jones said.

Fate brought her together with Jacob Upchurch, a father from Texas who happened to see her story. Upchurch and his wife found a law in place in their state back in 2013, after their son Zachary Foye died a month before his graduation. Upchurch's wife was able to walk at graduation and receive her son's diploma for him.

"What’s good for one state ought to be good enough for another," Upchurch said.

Upchurch sent Jackson-Jones the law's language, and her friend started a petition which eventually garnered more than 11,000 signatures online. The idea ended up with State Representative Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, who agreed to work on it.

Pryor was able to add the amendment into an education bill during this year's legislative session, and it passed by a unanimous vote.

The change to the law will take effect Saturday, and under it families will be allowed to request a diploma for a student who passes away during their senior year of high school, and who was on track to graduate.

"I think the parent deserves an opportunity to get their kid’s diploma because those kids worked hard for it," Pryor said.

Jackson-Jones said she believed her son had a hand in making it all come together so quickly.

"I know my child’s a negotiator, so I know he’s like 'God, c’mon, help my mom out. This is good for her, this will be good for everybody,'" Jackson-Jones said.

She, Pryor, Upchurch, and others met with FOX59 Friday to get the word out about about the change to the law. They said they hoped families would not have to use it, but wanted everyone to know it will be there in the worst of circumstances.

"In a way it keeps his name alive and in the same token it benefits others who actually need it," Jackson-Jones said.