Allen W. Lee, a student at Cary-Grove High School in Cary, was charged with disorderly conduct stemming from an essay that was part of a "free writing" assignment in a creative writing class.
The teen was charged because his teacher became alarmed by the "violence" he described, Cary Police Chief Ron Delelio said. The essay contained no specific threats but was "disturbing and inappropriate," he said.
The paper allegedly made a vague reference to a fictional school shooting in McHenry County but didn’t specify a school or district, a law enforcement source said.
Lee admitted mentioning school shooting in the essay, but downplayed it.
"At the very last sentence, I said that this teacher's method of teaching could lead to a school shooting," Lee said Wednesday. He said he'd intended the entire essay as a joke.
Lee's father, Albert Lee, questioned the severity of the punishment.
"We think they have been too harsh," Albert Lee said Wednesday. "Every story has two sides."
The charges come less than two weeks after Virginia Tech senior Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and then himself on the Blacksburg, Va., campus. Cho had written violence-drenched plays in his creative writing class.
"I understand what happened recently at Virginia Tech," said Albert Lee. "I understand the situation."
But he also defended his son as a straight-A student who was following instructions for the assignment.
But police said it was necessary to be extra vigilant regarding the possibility of school violence.
"We filed what we thought was the appropriate charge," Delelio said. "We need to be very vigilant today when we’re dealing with school settings."
Lee’s creative writing instructor — a first-year teacher — became so concerned when reading the essay Monday night that she called the Cary-Grove English Department chair, who then called the principal at home, said Community High School District 155 Supt. Jill Hawk.
Police were alerted, and Lee was arrested Tuesday morning. By Wednesday, Lee was in an "off-campus placement" with a tutor "while we assess just how extensively we need to be concerned," Hawk said.
Allen Lee faces disciplinary action, said Jeff Puma, a District 155 spokesman.
Police have declined to release a copy of the essay.
"It raised some flags," Puma said. "I think, in this case, the teacher chose to err on the side of caution and, I think, rightly so."
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said that without knowing all the details of the essay, "You have to wonder whether [the charges were] an overreaction, given the events at Virginia Tech."
"He turned it in to a teacher. He didn't post it online," Yohnka added. "It's not a communication between him and the broader world. This [charge] is just very puzzling."
A Cary-Grove student who knows Lee described him as quiet and smart. “He was quiet, he wasn't scary,” the student said.
On Wednesday, students at the school showed support for Lee with a petition drive to let him back into school.
Disorderly conduct can be filed if someone’s actions alarm or disturb another enough to "provoke a breach of the peace," McHenry County State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi said. "So far, we’re supportive" of the charge, he said.
Lee, who was arrested Tuesday, posted $75 bond.
He is scheduled to appear in court June 18.
The STNG Wire and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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