Sixteen-year-old Kiera Wilmot was an exemplary student at Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida. With her good grades and perfect behavior record, she was every teacher’s dream student. She never got in trouble.
Now she has been labeled a criminal for life, all because of a failed science project.
On Monday, April 22, Wilmot was mixing some common household chemicals in an 8-ounce water bottle at her school when the top popped off, causing a small explosion and some billowing smoke. No damage was caused and no one was injured.
I seem to recall a similar experiment that my son carried out with vinegar and baking soda: pretty harmless stuff. I told him to clean it up and not to try it again. End of story.
But not for Wilmot.
Administrators at Bartow High School decided this was a matter for the police. Shortly after the incident, the 16-year-old was arrested and charged with an adult felony: possession/discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device.
The teen was also expelled and will now complete her education in an expulsion program.
This is zero tolerance gone berserk: Care2 has previously brought you stories of a nine-year-old suspended for a “Kick Me” post-it, a seven-year-old suspended for making a gun out of his pop tart, and a high schooler kicked out of school for expressing herself about shootings.
Those did not involve adult criminal charges. Kiera Wilmot is being charged as an adult for a simple science project that went wrong. As a result, she will have a permanent blemish on her record, which could be used against her in applying for colleges and in seeking a job in the future.
She is being punished for doing what good teachers inspire their students to do: taking a chance, thinking creatively, experimenting. Here’s a young woman who was thriving at high school, and now all that has been taken away.
The school principal even agreed that Wilmot is a good student, that she wasn’t acting with any malicious intent.
Chelsey Turner, a student, weighed in. “I don’t think she’s that type of person. She wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
“I heard she didn’t want to hurt anyone at all,” said another student, Dynequa Price. “It was a science project.”
School officials are urging parents to have an open and honest conversation with kids about playing around or pulling pranks on school property.
Polk County Schools released this statement today:
“Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules. We urge our parents to join us in conveying the message that there are consequences to actions. We will not compromise the safety and security of our students and staff.”
Really, Polk County? Are you serious?
Do you understand what you are doing to this bright young woman, who will now undoubtedly be angry and alienated from both the school system and the judicial system for life?
This is zero tolerance at its worst. Why not try using common sense and reasoned judgement regarding intent, instead of relying on an absolutist, black-and-white interpretation of the rules? Yes, I understand that we are all on tenterhooks these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to punish an innocent student.
Take Action: If you agree that the reaction of Polk County Schools is outrageous, please sign our petition demanding that all charges be dropped against Kiera Wilmot and that she be reinstated at Bartow High School.
Related Care2 Coverage
Photo Credit: wtsp.com online video