Family of Glendale junior sues to stop SPS from 'forcing' student to graduate early

Lily Jones, a junior at Glendale High School, wants to study in France next year and return to Springfield Public Schools for a traditional senior year.
Lily Jones, a junior at Glendale High School, wants to study in France next year and return to Springfield Public Schools for a traditional senior year.

The parents of a Glendale High School junior who plans to spend next year studying in France have filed a lawsuit to stop Springfield Public Schools from forcing her to graduate early.

Jeffrey Jones and Julie Rhoads want their daughter, Lily Jones, to be able to return to Glendale in fall 2025 to have a senior year in SPS.

"By denying Lily a senior year, not only would she miss out on the hallmarks of senior year — senior nights, senior awards, banquets, homecoming, senior prom, etc. — but she would be denied many opportunities to earn awards and accolades that offer scholarship opportunities," Rhoads told the News-Leader.

The family has spent more than a year preparing for the 17-year-old to study abroad as a foreign exchange student and communicating with Glendale at various steps along the way.

"The plan was for Lily to finish her junior year in 2024, go to France for the 2024-25 school year then return as a senior at Glendale for the 2025-26 school year," Rhoads said. "That was the plan during all correspondence with her school counselor."

Rhoads said Lily was called to the counselor's office April 5 and told she will not be allowed to return to Glendale for a senior year and since she had met the minimum requirements to graduate already, she was expected to graduate May 18 as part of the Class of 2024.

"She was really shocked. She got brought down to the counselor's office for what she thought was going to be a meeting to tie up loose ends, what do I do with my Chromebook, what happens when I get back, those sorts of questions," Rhoads said.

Scenes from the Glendale High School graduation ceremony at Great Southern Bank Arena on Saturday, May 20, 2023.
Scenes from the Glendale High School graduation ceremony at Great Southern Bank Arena on Saturday, May 20, 2023.

The family protested but Rhoads said after Glendale Principal Josh Groves confirmed that initial decision days later, the family called Springfield attorney Patrick Baird.

"We've been in talks with her school counselor since the beginning of last school year," Rhoads said.

"There was never any discussion ... that you couldn't go to France and come back. There was never a discussion that you have to graduate in four consecutive academic years. That was never brought up in this 18-month window of time, when we were making all these arrangements."

Baird said the district told the family that since Lily was not earning any credit hours while she studied in France, the district would not get state funding for her when she returned. "They didn't want to do that and so instead of losing funding, they told her 'We're just going to graduate you on May 18.'"

"Glendale for, as far as I can tell, no other reason than funding, does not want her to experience a senior year in high school," Baird said.

He added: "The next step is to make sure that she does not graduate on May 18 and continue to fight so that she can have a senior year."

Asked for a comment, Stephen Hall, chief communications officer for SPS, said: "We are committed to working with all of our students and families to help them achieve their educational goals. When we receive a special request, we must consider our obligations to all stakeholders."

Hall noted the stakeholders include the other students, taxpayers at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE.

"There are limits to the extent that we are able to deviate from established protocols when we make a special accommodation for a student. Once a student accumulates the required number of credits, they either graduate early or with their designated cohort," Hall said. "Lines of communication remain open and we look forward to identifying a resolution within the defined parameters of law and other regulations."

'Amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity'

Lily Jones is actively engaged at Glendale as part of the orchestra, book club, World Language Club, National Honor Society and the Missouri A+ Scholarship Program.

Lily Jones, a junior at Glendale High School, plans to study in France this fall as a foreign exchange student.
Lily Jones, a junior at Glendale High School, plans to study in France this fall as a foreign exchange student.

"She is a model student, the kind of kid that wants to be there," Rhoads said. "She gets upset when she does have to miss school."

Rhoads said her daughter has studied French for several years and traveled to France during spring break last year. This year, the family is hosting a foreign exchange student from France and next year, Lily Jones plans to be part of the program, living with a host family in that country. Her tentative departure date is Aug 29.

"She's got such an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go live with a French family, go to a French high school and have that full immersion experience," Rhoads said.

Rhoads said the family has been told Lily can return to SPS for a traditional senior year this fall or she can graduate and be part of the exchange program, as planned, this fall. "Right now SPS is saying it's either, or ... but you can't do both."

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She said if her daughter is not allowed to return for a senior year at Glendale, she will not be able to complete all of the requirements for the A+ scholarship, she will lose her National Honor Society status, and she will not be eligible to take exams to earn Seals of Excellence in core subjects, music and world languages.

"These awards and honors look very appealing on college applications and can lead to scholarship opportunities," Rhoads said.

The family said they hope a compromise can be worked out quickly. A hearing was scheduled for Friday but Baird said that may be postponed.

"We believe Springfield Public Schools is putting their bottom line first and focusing on funding versus supporting a student who has a once in a lifetime opportunity to live with a French family, study in a French high school and have a full language immersion experience," Rhoads said.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: SPS junior sues SPS to return for senior year after studying in France