Austin ISD student who died in motorcycle crash will receive posthumous diploma

The family of an Austin High School student killed in a motorcycle crash last year will be given a posthumous diploma, but until Thursday afternoon, the family was told they would not be granted his diploma because of the Texas Education Code.

Jack de Leon was a junior at Austin High School when he died suddenly in a motorcycle accident.
The school district said because he was not a senior at the time of his death, they could not award him an honorary diploma, even though Jack’s family said Jack already had enough credits to be considered a senior.

Graduating from Austin High School was extremely important to the young math wiz.

“He was an exceptional student. He loved school, he worked really hard, cared about his grades more than anybody, he was just incredibly motivated,” said Jack’s mother, Serena Goodspeed.

After his death, Jack's family was assured; they would still get an honorary diploma in his name.

“We were kind of told, when graduation comes up next year, because that would be his graduating class, we'll definitely accommodate you, whatever we need to do to honor him and make his contribution to the school and vice versa known,” Goodspeed said.

However, they found out a couple days ago, offering posthumous diplomas only apply to students who pass away in their senior year under the Texas Education Code.

“He probably had as many credits as a senior; he just was technically classified as a junior when the accident happened,” said Goodspeed.  

That was hard news to swallow for Jack's friends and family.

“Something just struck me that, no, this is wrong. Jack deserves a diploma,” said Vaughan De Leon, Jack’s sister.

“He definitely earned it. He went above and beyond in all his classes ever since he was in kindergarten,” Goodspeed said. 

A social media post explaining the situation was quickly shared hundreds of times and dozens of people started writing letters to the AISD superintendent pleading for the district to award Jack a diploma.

“Sometimes you feel like you're just by yourself in this, because I think about Jack every day and I don't know if other people think of him too, and so, when I see all the people who come together and try to help, it really made me feel very, very good,” Vaughan said. 

Thursday afternoon, Serena learned that everyone's hard work paid off.

“They said that the Superintendent, Paul Cruz, is going to award Jack a posthumous diploma,” Goodspeed said. 

“It's almost like he's kind of still here and it's just continuing his legacy and everything,” said Vaughan.

Now, Serena hopes part of Jack's legacy is to make it easier for other grieving families to honor their child's hard work with a very special piece of paper.

“Hopefully this will, if this does happen to another family, the process will be much smoother and they won't be shut out and made to feel as small as I was made to feel,” Goodspeed said. 

Serena said the superintendent told her he will be writing up policies for all AISD high schools to follow in case this ever happens again.

Jack will be honored at Austin High School's graduation on June 2.