Don’t Expel High School Student for Writing Poem About Sandy Hook Shooting

Target: Teri Lynch Delane, principal of Life Learning Academy

Goal: Apologize to student suspended for writing poetry about the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and allow her to return to school with her disciplinary record untarnished

No one should have to fear punishment for private self-expression, least of all high school students in the United States.  But when 17-year-old Courtni Webb’s journal was discovered by one of her teachers at Life Learning Academy in San Francisco, California, her personal reflections soon caused her to be suspended from school. A broad application of the school’s zero-tolerance policy allowed administrators to interpret a poem about the recent Sandy Hook elementary school shooting as a threat to school safety. Webb has since been suspended from classes while administrators consider expelling her for good.

The poem, which was not turned in for class, but found by a teacher in a private notebook, contains lines that have been interpreted as empathetic toward the Sandy Hook shooter: “I understand the killings in Connecticut. I know why he pulled the trigger.” While dramatic, claiming understanding of an instance of violence is not itself a threat to further violence. And attempting to process the painful incident in Newtown through the written word is certainly not an offense deserving of expulsion.

No student should have her future ruined by an ill-timed discovery of her most personal thoughts. Expelling Webb will only send the message that even honest attempts to understand tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting are crimes in themselves. Webb did nothing wrong and does not deserve to have her place at school taken away from her. Sign the petition to demand that Life Learning Academy’s principal allow Webb to return to classes and remove the suspension from her record.


Dear Teri Lynch Delane,

When 17-year-old Courtni Webb wrote down her thoughts on the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut, she never imagined that a poem would get her kicked out of class. But a misapplication of Life Learning Academy’s zero-tolerance policy led to Webb’s suspension after a teacher discovered her private notebook.

Webb’s words may have appeared empathetic with the Connecticut shooter, but closer reading implies that the student was simply trying to understand the culture of violence that pervades the United States. Claiming knowledge of the cultural forces behind a terrible tragedy doesn’t endorse such violence, nor does it serve as a threat of future violence. Webb is innocent–yet she faces possible expulsion just for expressing herself.

What students compose in private should have no bearing on their disciplinary record. Webb was not making threats or intimidating other students with her writing, nor was she planning an act of violence in any sense. She deserves to have her record wiped clean. I urge to to allow Webb to return to school and remove this unfortunate suspension from the books.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Zedlik via WikiCommons.

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