July 11, 2007 -- A seemingly innocent expression of young love has gotten a young girl in very serious trouble.
After writing "I Love Alex" in magic marker on her school's gym wall, 12-year-old Shelby Sendelbach was given the same punishment handed down to students who make terrorist threats and cause others bodily harm: She was kicked out of her Katy, Texas, middle school and sentenced to four months in a disciplinary program.
"I knew it was bad, but I never thought I would get caught," Sendelbach said on "Good Morning America" this morning. "The whole place, the bleachers and the walls, are all covered with graffiti. I just wanted to add to it and I didn't think it would do much harm."
After writing on the gymnasium wall, Sendelbach was called into the principal's office, read her rights and questioned by a police officer.
"At first I said I didn't do it because I didn't really want to get caught, and then she started questioning me more, and finally, I said 'I did it.'" Sendelbach said. "I was scared. I didn't know what to think."
Soon after, the school district told Sendelbach and her parents that she would be assigned to an alternative, disciplinary school for four months of the upcoming school year. Her parents are horrified by the punishment.
"That school is where they send the kids who sell drugs at school, the gang members -- they are the level 4 and 5 offenders," said Lisa Sendelbach, Shelby's mom. "That's the kind of crowd you don't want your kids to hang around with, and that's where she's being sent."
Punishment Too Harsh for Crime?
Sendelbach has no previous record. When her father, Stu Sendelbach, visited the school, he was outraged to find its walls covered in graffiti he thought was much more obvious than the light blue heart his daughter drew on the gym wall.
But in a statement, the Katy school district defended its actions, saying, "It is always our practice to follow the law and policy while looking out for what is in the best interest of the individual student and the district as a whole."
The Sendelbachs are fighting the punishment by appealing to the school district and their senator. While they don't think Shelby should get away with vandalism, they don't want her in disciplinary school.
"We don't think she should get away with it. Give her a brush and make her scrub it off," Stu Sendelbach said. "But we don't want her there."