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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Gun poem suspension upheld
Columbine High School
Shootings such as at Columbine have fuelled fears
The suspension of a pupil for writing a violent poem has been upheld by an appeal court in the United States.

The federal appeals court found that a Washington state school district had the right to suspend a pupil over the violent content of the poem, which included the lines "I drew my gun and Bang Bang, Bang Bang".

This long-running legal wrangle over the poem, Last Words, written by a 16-year-old pupil three years ago, highlights the sensitivities over violence in schools.

Following a series of school shootings, including the 15 deaths at Columbine High School, teachers and education officials have been acutely aware of any "warning signs" of impending violence.

And this has also brought claims of over-reaction, when pupils' creative writing has been interpreted as evidence of real-life intent.

In the case of James LaVine's poem, the school district imposed a 17-day suspension, on the grounds that it was acting to ensure the safety of pupils from a possible threat.

This had been contested by Mr LaVine - and a lower court had found in his favour.

Free speech

But the appeals court ruled that while the right to free speech might protect the contents of the poem, the school was still entitled to act in response to a perceived danger.

The school district had claimed that the violence of the poetry, handed in to an English teacher, fitted in with other causes of concern, including how the pupil dressed and his "disturbing" background.

And it had argued that parents expect schools to make every effort to protect children from threats.

Research into school shootings published last week suggested that schools should pay more attention to violent attitudes expressed by pupils or any other warning signs.

A branch of the Secret Service has examined the origins of school shootings and concluded that they are unlikely to be spontaneous - and that most are preceded by warnings from pupils.

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See also:

18 Jul 01 | Education
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29 Oct 99 | Education
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