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YOLO: So Why Was a Texas Prankster Suspended When There Were Better Options?

Rachel Goodman,
Former Staff Attorney,
ACLU Racial Justice Program
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April 3, 2013

Kyron Birdine, a high school junior in Arlington, Texas, didn’t see much point to taking an extra standardized test that wouldn’t be used to evaluate him in any way. Kyron will graduate from high school under the standards of TAKS, Texas’s old high-stakes exam, but he and his classmates were still required to sit for STAAR, a new test that the state is phasing in. So, instead of writing an essay on the STAAR test, Kyron protested by writing “I have the TAKS test to study for, not this unneeded craziness. Yolo. :)” YOLO, of course, is the acronym for “You Only Live Once.” Kyron was telling the school not to waste his time.

Kyron then took a picture of his response and sent it to the Arlington Independent School District and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Twitter.

Apparently unamused, school officials suspended him from school for four days. That’s almost a week of education he’ll miss out on. We hope school administrators thought hard about whether suspension was the appropriate response to Kyron’s behavior, as studies have shown that suspensions make kids much more likely to repeat a grade or drop out of high school and much more likely to wind up involved with the juvenile justice system. In fact, suspensions are often the first step in the school-to-prison pipeline. This is especially true for African-American students like Kyron, who are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled.

Now, we’re not saying that students have a right to use mobile devices during exams. We’re just pleading with Arlington, and school districts around the country, to use more constructive forms of discipline, like positive behavioral supports, in place of suspensions and expulsions. The ACLU of Texas has lots of ideas about how the school-to-prison pipeline in Texas can change. And even the state educational commissioner thinks the situation has gotten out of hand. Noting that 119 districts saw a doubling in the number of black students who were suspended during the 2011-12 school year, he is asking the state legislature to give the commissioner authority to set instructional standards for students who are suspended, so they don’t miss out on their education, and for the commissioner to deal with districts that overuse suspension as a disciplinary tool.

Kyron has a 3.0 GPA and plans to go to college. He’s smart enough and bold enough to think up a clever (and, let’s admit, pretty funny) response to the bureaucracy of high-stakes testing that he finds himself caught in. This is the kind of kid whose energy our schools need to capture. Let’s demand that he not be pushed out instead.

Image courtesy of Gawker.

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