CMS to give family honorary high school diploma for late son

by: Paige Hansen Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A family contacted Channel 9, disappointed and frustrated with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district.

The parents of a 17-year-old former CMS student say when their son died suddenly in December, the school promised to honor him at the graduation he would have attended next week. But, Tuesday the parents say the district told them their son could not get a diploma.

"It's what I've been expecting. It's what i've been waiting for," Mary Scott said. "It's something we didn't expect to hear a 'no' on," David Scott, Mary's husband, added.

The Scott's showed Channel 9 the spot on their living room wall they have been saving for their youngest son's high school diploma.

"He earned that," the mother of Blake Burgess said. "If Blake were here today, there is no question he would be graduating."

But in December, the Scott's say their son, Blake Burgess, died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. His parents say every day was a battle for Burgess, who suffered severe pain and migraines because he had sickle cell anemia. A diploma, they say, would be proof of their son's dedication to his education despite his challenges.

"It would symbolize how hard he worked because it was a different fight for him," Burgess's dad said. "It was a different fight for him from the day he was born."
After being told by the school's principal in December Burgess would be honored at graduation and possibly receive a diploma, the parents were frustrated when they say CMS came back yesterday and said their son would not get a diploma.
"Our family is very distraught from this because CMS is supposed to be a safehaven for families, parents," Mr. Scott said.

Channel 9 reached out to the district before our interview with the Scott's Wednesday morning.  An hour later, during our interview, the school's principal left a message for the family saying their son would now receive an "honorary diploma."

"They responded very well because of you guys and we really appreciate that," Mr. Scott said.  

The parents say they would prefer a "real" diploma, but the district said that is not possible.

According to state and CMS policy, "A student must successfully complete all North Carolina and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) Graduation requirements to graduate from high school and receive a diploma."

"He wanted this moment," Burgess's parents said. "That's all he ever wanted. He can't speak for himself right now so we're here to speak for him."

The parents say, since their son died, they've planned to still be at the June 15 graduation to commemorate the accomplishment they were expecting.   

The district said the practice to offer honorary diplomas to students who pass away before graduating started several years ago but is not an official written policy.

The parents say the school honored their son last month in a memorial garden at the school from which he would have graduated.