Did They Go Too Far? Student Suspended From School And Faces Expulsion For Writing Poem About Sandy Hook Shooter

December 31, 2012  |  

California high school senior Courtni Webb loves to write poetry, and like most people who do, she uses her words on paper to express her opinions on big issues going on in the world, and the dysfunction in our society. But the high school senior received the shock of her life recently when administrators at her school, The Life Learning Academy, an alternative school for juvenile reform justice, caught wind of her poem about the Sandy Hook shooting and shooter after her teacher found it in class, and considered it a threat more than an expression of feelings. She was suspended for her words, and actually faces possible expulsion.

The poem was definitely not all sunshine and flowers, but from what could be taken of it in numerous interviews, it was just a simple social commentary on how people who feel helpless and hurt by the folks around them lash out. I’m guessing that the lines, “I understand the killings in Connecticut. I know why he pulled the trigger,” are what got under the skin of administrators. In an interview with ABC affiliate KGO-TV in San Francisco, Webb tried to let it be known that just because she said she might understand why someone would feel such a way and do such a thing, she’s not threatening anyone and doesn’t in any way condone Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza’s behavior. “The meaning of the poem is just talking about society and how I understand why things like that incident happened. So it’s not like I’m agreeing with it, but that’s how the school made it seem.”

Her mother, Valerie Statham, also feels that the school  has overreacted big time, as they assumed that she was threatening to do something violent, which her mother says you don’t get from reading the poem. “I feel like they’re over reacting. Because my daughter doesn’t have a history of violence. She didn’t threaten anybody. She didn’t threaten herself. She simply said she understood why.”

Her mother also feels that suspending her for writing the poem is a violation of free speech, and in an interview with The Today Show, Attorney Jonathan Katz agreed with Statham. “If we can’t talk about this whole incident, we’re not going to understand what makes these people tick, who load up their guns and kill a massive number of people.” According to Statham, she won’t know whether or not her daughter will be expelled from school until The Life Learning Academy has classes resume on January 7.

While I understand schools trying to do everything they can to keep kids safe after such a tragedy, this seems like an overreaction of one of the highest forms. Instead of suspending her, they should have sat down and discussed the story behind the poem, and if they still felt a certain way about it all, they could have kept an eye on her around school and contacted her parents. But to jump up and punish a young person for trying to make sense of the world around them and express their feelings, I think they dropped the ball with such swift and harsh action–especially since they’re even considering possible expulsion. But that’s just my opinion. Check out the interview from KGO-TV below and let us know what you think.

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  • bahamianempress99

    I wholeheartedly agree that they overreacted. I wrote a lot of dark poetry in gradeschool. About suicide, cutting, etc. It was cathartic and kept me from acting on destructive impulses. If more people expressed their feelings as opposed to holding it in, I believe less incidents like this would occur. My school counselors spoke to me instead of shaming me about it, and I feel I’m a better person because of it.

  • So is this an example of the school to prison pipeline? This isn’t the first time a black child was dealt a heavy handed punishment for their writing (Remember the one girl who wrote on the relationship between Frederick Douglas, Slavery and the public school system? She too was suspended) This sends a damaging message that no matter how articulate and respectful a piece may be, if it rubs the “superiors” the wrong way, you will be unfairly punished for your message. That is certainly robbing these children of their freedom of speech. I hope this young lady gets transferred to a more advance and accepting institution.

  • Lady

    I support Freedom of Speech however some things said can be offensive and hurtful and sometimes better left unsaid or in a more tactful manner. “I understand why things like that incident happen.” Really, you can understand why someone would shoot and kill 27 INNOCENT people not to mention 20 kids. I understand stress, depression and other things that can lead a person to anger BUT I will never understand how it ends with a person taking the lives of others. To make such a statement and put it in a poem that was meant to be heard by others would concern me. Is this her cry for help and what issues does she has that she can understand? If in fact she wrote the poem for attention, how does one make a statement that could easily be misinterpreted and hurtful. Try telling the families of the victims I understand why your loved one was murdered. Just sad…..

  • Kenedy

    I can see both sides….she has the right to express herself…but why make a poem public, that was obviously going to be interpreted the way it was. She’s a senior, so she’s old enough to understand that it is insensitive & controversial to say, in public, that she understands where the shooter was coming from. The school shouldn’t have kicked her out though, they should have offered her some counseling services

    • Kaori

      How could the writer or the poem determine how others would perceive/interpret her poem?

      • yeppers

        She could not…but thats what most are saying…She doesnt understand the details of mental illness and how it can play a part in these crimes. We dont know exactly what she meant. But possible she was likening it to normal crimes where people feel hopeless for whatever reason…but this was not a normal crime where HOPELESS was the only factor, thats what troubles so many.

  • old school

    Yeppers is on point. Only God “understands” anyone’s mind, heart and soul. To say you understand someone who is mentally unstable is a part of the arrogance of youth.

    Someone does need to sit her down and speak with her.
    Either she is referring to his mental state or she is referring to his actions when she states that she understands.

    If I were a student in that school or if I had a child in that school, I’d look at her reputation with her teachers and fellow students – if she has issues someone will know.

    to be Immediately expelled from school is too much.

    • yeppers

      Thats exactly what Im saying. I understand shes trying to be expressive as a poet and such…but it troubled me to her her say a loss of hope or feeling hopeless is why he shot up some kids/adults and she understood that resort. Alot of people lose hope in this country every day and that is not a resort, so that should NEVER be an understandable outlet for losing hope. Shes young so maybe she doesnt know all of the details of the case…and shes expressing her feelings toward someone who does crime in general. But monstrosities like what he did, are mentally ill people, thats not like breaking into someone car/house or stealing from the mall because u hopeless from being broke….not the same.

  • kierah

    My husband and I discussed last night, “Where is the art that reflects our times?” We used to have blues and jazz and rap. Why aren’t we supporting and hunting for our next Basquiat?
    Stuff like this is part of the reason why. Schools that are supposed to nurture our children’s thoughts and talents are maligning them instead. This poem should have generated a discussion at the very least.

  • bluekissess

    Two Words: “SHE’S BLACK”
    America sees us as a threat anyways. They should pay attention to their own peeps instead of jumping to conclusion. Everybody wants to talk about success and not the struggle. I’m surprised she didn’t get deeper in on the topic. Why is it only white men who commit these crimes? Why is their crime correlated to a “mental illness?” I.bet if a black man did it he would be looked at as a thug. All this propaganda is disgusting. The truth should be televised. Sadly it won’t.

  • KJ23

    Tensions are always extremely high after a tragedy of this magnitude. I remember in “Bowling for Columbine,” they were showing how kids were getting suspended and expelled left and right for things like that. There was a little boy how had a chicken strip the shape of a gun and he got suspended for pointing it at his teacher. Or an elementary student who was suspended during a game of “Cowboys and Indians” for acting like he shot another student. People are afraid it’s going to happen to them in their school too.

  • Kaori

    The school went too far. In another state, a boy had the police called on him because he had violent drawings on his notebook or something.

  • Yeppers

    I too hope she is not expelled… But like the post said they need to sit her down with a mental evaluation and help her to understand her words… Shes young and for her to express that she understands why a mentally unstable serial sociopath went in and shot up a bunch of kids is troubling to me…. As her mom I would have sat her down and asked her about those words and if she didn’t understand the details behind the shooting then EXPLAIN THEM TO HER… Because she obviously has some facts wrong if she feels like “feeling like u have no hope” means u go kill up a bunch of kids…. Naw nah! That baby needs someone to talk to her if she feels that way…. Not more ridicule. Help her before it’s too late. Explain to her that there are more reasons and often times mental ones that she can’t possibly know and understand as she put it to why people do what they do.

    • Kaori

      Wow. You seem to give her very little credit in understanding her own feelings and thoughts.

      • yeppers

        Shes a child sweetheart….how can a child understand a mentally unstable sociopath or aspergers or whatever they are attributing this to in addition to crazy…is she a licensed psychologist as well??? Dont be silly, Im saying that there are mental issues that she may not understand that were in play here. I just dont think she should believe that just because someone is UPSET WITH THE WORLD…this is the option and its understood…because thats not all there is.

        • bluekissess

          Why does it have to refer to his mental state. What if she understands how he feels feeling abandoned, isolated, not heard, lonely why does it automatically have to go back to his mental state? I’m just playing the devils advocate. I.haven’t read her words so I don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t understand his mental state what if she just understands how he FEELS. While we focus on her I’m sure someone else is plotting another massacre

          • old school

            How he feels is his mental state.

        • Kaori

          Sweetheart, I am not being ‘silly’. Her being a teenager doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand complex matters. I should be asking you if YOU are a licensed psychologist with the way you presented your opinion.

    • eque

      She wasn’t agreeing with what he did. She was referencing the culture of how we are living today; and the things we exposed to in our society. She could have used different wording. But the school is really overreacting.

    • bluekissess

      You can’t possibly come up with that conclusion without reading the poem yourself. Her poem is doing exactly what is meant to do. Make people talk and form an opinion on what they THINK she meant. True artistry to me.

  • Amija James

    I think it’s important to look at why the shooter did what he did. She brings up some very valid points.

    • bluekissess

      Exactly, I’m not understanding the problem. When the crime was first committed the question was WHY? she asks the same question and now she’s wrong?

  • Very silly, and mom is right, they are violating her right to speak freely! Smh.. hopefully, they don’t expel her!

    • Charla

      You do have a right to free speech but that doesn’t protect you from the consequences of that free speech. But I really have no opinion on either parties actions.