By all accounts, 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot was a model student at Bartow High School in Florida. She got good grades and had never been in trouble. On a recent morning before school, Wilmot mixed a couple household chemicals together in an 8-ounce water bottle that caused, according to witnesses, a small popping sound and a puff of smoke. No one was hurt and no property was damaged. Wilmot immediately explained to school staff that she was conducting a science experiment out of curiosity. Her principal, Ron Pritchard, believes her: “She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone. She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did.”
This story could have ended there, but since Wilmot’s experiment caused an explosion, she was taken into custody by the school police officer, charged with possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds (a felony), and will be tried as an adult. She was also expelled from school. Say what?!
The school district released the following statement defending their decision:
“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.”
As much as I understand the need to take threats and violence of any kind seriously, Wilmot’s school seems to have abandoned all common sense in order to use her to send a message to other students. Is there a chance Wilmot did have a malicious intent when she poured chemicals in that water bottle? I suppose, but if her past behavior indicates otherwise, and school officials believe she meant no harm (not to mention the fact that she literally did no harm), then why is she being punished so harshly?
Yes, consequences are important, but they should be proportional to one’s actions. Consequences for the sake of consequences? That’s not a lesson schools should be teaching.
This reminds me of those stories of elementary school kids getting suspended for yelling, “Bang! Bang!” while holding gun-shaped chicken nuggets. Wilmot’s bottle was about as dangerous as a chicken nugget, but instead of getting kicked out of kindergarten, she’s being expelled from high school, charged with a violent felony, and tried as an adult.
If the school doesn’t come to their senses and withdraw the charges, I hope Wilmot can find her way out of this mess.