Punishment for student pond-diving prank prompts protest

Punishment for student pond-diving prank prompts protest
Published: Feb. 1, 2012 at 5:25 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2012 at 12:33 PM CST
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Students and former students protest outside Texas H.S. Wednesday
Students and former students protest outside Texas H.S. Wednesday
(Courtesy: Amy Cavazos)
(Courtesy: Amy Cavazos)

TEXARKANA, TX (KSLA) - Students protested Wednesday over punishment of a student that pulled a pond-jumping prank at Texas High School, and now some say they're getting suspended as a result.

It all stems from a stunt pulled on Tuesday, in which Senior Austin Byrd jumped into the pond that sits in the center of the Texas H.S. campus.  It happened during the school's annual festival involving seniors dressing up as characters in "Canterbury Tales," touring the school and reciting verses from the 14th century story collection. "I really don't know why I did it. I just got caught up in the moment I guess," says Byrd.

Fellow students captured the stunt on cell phone video, and have since posted it to YouTube. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen. It has been a lot bigger than I ever thought it would be and people loved it," says Byrd.

Students say the pond-jumping is part of a long-standing tradition that happens at some point every year, either as a prank or as a dare.

Friends say Byrd has been suspended from school for five days and will have to spend 20 days in the District Alternative Education Program when he returns.  He was also reportedly fined $300. Texarkana Independent School District Superintendent Paul Norton says the punishment for Byrd is fair. "The punishment the student received is very fair and consistent with what we have done in the past. And all the talk around it is not accurate to what the discipline is," says Norton.

Word spread of the punishment apparently spread quickly, and a movement of sorts in defense of what they call a "harmless prank" had taken shape by Tuesday afternoon. Tweets with the hash tag #FreeByrd sprang up.

On Wednesday morning, students arrived with it on their car windows, and several others stood off-campus with signs, chanting the phrase in protest.

Now students say they are being suspended for the disruption caused by their protests.

Junior Logan Porter came to school with "Free Byrd" painted on her face and on her car. She says she has received notice from the school that she has been suspended for one day for "engaging in behavior that disrupts school," and faces more if she continues. Porter says she has washed the paint off, but still supports the cause.

"The issue that comes up is it a disruption of the school day and once it becomes a disruption of the school day we have to come in and make sure we keep a safe environment, educational environment, instructional environment for all of our students," says Norton.

School administrators can't speak specifically to any student's punishment, but they initially told KSLA News 12 Byrd's was consistent with school policy. But as of early Wednesday afternoon, Austin Byrd told KSLA News 12 that he had just gotten word the punishment has been reduced to two days of suspension, followed by 10 days if in school suspension (ISS).  He'll go back to school tomorrow. "I know what I did was wrong and I am not going to deny that at all so I believe that is probably what I deserve," says Byrd.

School administrators point out that students who want to participate in the "Canterbury Tales" event are required every year to sign a form saying they will not be disruptive.

Byrd says he was just trying to get some lasting memories of his final year in high school. Asked if he would do it again, Byrd says he probably would.

Copyright 2012 KSLA. All rights reserved.