updated 7/7/2007 5:08:38 PM ET 2007-07-07T21:08:38

Writing “I love Alex” on a school gymnasium wall brought a 12-year-old the same punishment as if she had made terrorist threats.

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The Katy Independent School District rated the message, written with a baby blue marker by sixth-grader Shelby Sendelbach, as a Level 4 infraction — the same as for threats, drug possession and assault.

Only murder, gun possession, sexual assault and arson are considered more severe by the suburban Houston district.

For her punishment, Shelby was assigned to an alternative school from Aug. 27 through Dec. 21.

Just following the rules
School district spokesman Steve Stanford said the district was just following a state law, saying it requires assignment to an alternative school for graffiti.

Her parents have appealed and a hearing is set for this month. Lisa and Stu Sendelbach said they don’t condone what Shelby did but think the punishment is overly harsh.

“We are shocked that the school district rules as they are written make no distinction between what Shelby is accused of and what a gang member does with a can of black spray paint,” Stu Sendelbach said.

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