Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the location of Arroyo Grande High School’s prom; it was at Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo.
On Saturday, Arroyo Grande High School senior Jared Springer dressed up in black dress pants, a button-down shirt and vest with a pink tie he had picked out specially for that night. His mother drove him and his date to the Madonna Inn, where they ate while their classmates began filing into Mountainbrook Church for prom.
But instead of following those students into the high school rite-of-passage, Springer and his date went home.
“It was kind of a sad night,” said Springer’s mother, Lori, on Tuesday. “It was sweet, but at the same time he was still pretty disappointed and unhappy that he couldn’t go.”
Springer, who collapsed at school in 2014 because of a brain tumor and is confined to a wheelchair, was told by Lucia Mar Unified School District representatives late last week that he would not be allowed to attend prom with his classmates on Saturday because a broken hip had kept him out of classes for three weeks.
The district’s decision has since prompted a huge backlash online, where a Facebook post written by Lori and Frank Springer, Jared’s father, has been shared more than 2,800 times, and numerous people have pledged to host a private prom for the teen and his friends.
On Tuesday, district Superintendent Raynee Daley issued a public apology, saying, “We are truly sorry that Jared did not get to attend his senior prom.”
“There are policies in place that guide when students can take part in extracurricular activities,” she said. “We cannot let students participate in the absence of a medical release, and when we did not get a release in time, we were forced to make a decision that turned out to be very unfortunate in order to protect the safety of our students and staff.
“In this instance, we failed to communicate this in a timely way, and we failed to provide a path that could have made Jared’s dream come true. And for that, I accept responsibility and apologize.”
According to Lucia Mar Unified School District policy, students who are unable to attend classes are prohibited from attending school functions such as dances.
The Springers didn’t know about the rule and purchased tickets for Jared and his date on May 4 — three days before prom — Lori Springer said. At that point, her son had been out of classes for three weeks, she said, because of a fall from his wheelchair that broke his hip and sent him to a rehabilitation facility for physical therapy.
During that time, Lori Springer said her son’s only thought was getting better so he could go to prom with his date and friends.
“That was the one thing getting him through everything: prom,” she said.
Little did they know how difficult it would be to get Jared there.
The same day he purchased the tickets, Frank Springer received a call from one of his son’s support teachers saying the district wouldn’t allow the teen to attend the dance because of its attendance policy.
Over the next two days, Frank Springer attempted to reach the district and determine what would be needed to allow Jared to attend prom. He was told it would be too difficult to arrange accommodations, and that if either Frank or Lori Springer wanted to attend to assist their son, they would have to provide a doctor’s note, undergo a TB test and background check, and set up a meeting with the district to develop an individualized education plan for Jared.
“The school has worked with us really well before about everything with Jared’s needs,” Lori Springer said. “This time, I think there was just some miscommunication. They were asking for all of these things, and there was no way we were going to be able to do them in the time before Saturday.”
In their Facebook post, the Springers wrote that they were heartbroken for their son because he wouldn’t be allowed to attend the dance with his classmates.
“As a parent, I understand there has to be policies. I understand the need for rules. I just don’t understand why there is no compassion or importance given to kids and families that are suffering,” they wrote.
At a press conference Tuesday, Daley said she and her staff are examining how the decision was made, and figuring out how to prevent it in the future.
“I can assure you that we have learned some things together,” she said. “We have learned about communicating, about advocating for our kids, and we do not want this to happen to another student.”
A whirlwind response
Lori Springer said she and Frank Springer decided to write the post not to cause trouble for the district, but to hopefully raise awareness so that other students would not have to face similar disappointment in the future.
“I just wanted them to know that sometimes there are special circumstances,” Lori said. “If (Jared) hadn’t thought prom was such a big deal, I probably wouldn’t have thought this whole situation was so big. But prom was really the one thing getting him through everything.”
Besides garnering reaction from the community, the Springer’s Facebook post has kickstarted a grass-roots effort to help give Springer the prom he was dreaming about.
Brighten A Corner Ministry in San Luis Obispo has offered to organize a private prom for Springer, with the help of private donations from members of the community. Details are still being decided, the nonprofit organization said on its Facebook page Tuesday, but will be released in the next week.
Stephanie Tippitt, a member of Brighten A Corner, said the organization previously helped retrofit the Springer house when Jared went home after his five-month stay in the hospital, so that it was compatible with his needs.
“The family and Jared are positive, faithful, steadfast and eternally optimistic,” Tippitt said. “Their journey has been rough over the last year. … So it just personally breaks my heart that such a thoughtless decision was made by someone in the district. Jared just wanted to do something normal and enjoy his senior prom.”
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the organization had raised $5,000 of its $15,000 fundraising goal.
On Tuesday, Daley said the district is working with Brighten A Corner Ministry to help organize the prom, and will donate “whatever is needed.”
“This won’t change the past, but we are hoping that we can work together to create a memorable night for Jared,” Daley said.