Student expelled after science experiment goes wrong.

A high school in Florida has expelled Kiera Wilmot, a student with good grades and a perfectly clean behavioral record, after a science experiment went wrong.  The student, on school grounds, was curious about the interaction of certain chemicals and mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a bottle.  This created a mild explosion (enough to pop the top off the bottle).  No damage was caused and nobody was hurt.

The principle even acknowledge the innocence of her intent:

According to WTSP, Wilmot told police that she was merely conducting a science experiment. Though her teachers knew nothing of the specific project, her principal seems to agree.

“She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone,” principal Ron Pritchard told the station. “She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked, too.”

I know intent is not magic.  But anybody who says “intent is not magic” but really means “intent is irrelevant” is an asshole.  Indulging one’s curiosity is undeniably a lesser crime (if it’s a crime at all, which I don’t think it is in this case) than intentionally creating an explosion.

But it doesn’t even stop there.

After the explosion Wilmot was taken into custody by a school resources officer and charged with possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device. She will be tried as an adult. Riptide spoke to the Polk County School District about why they felt expulsion was a fair punishment for Wilmot. Their response: kids should learn that “there are consequences to their actions.”

That is fucking madness.  This doesn’t demonstrate that you’re taking school violence seriously, it just shows that you can overreact and are willing to fuck over the life of a good student in order to convince other people how tough you are against school violence.

Said the school:

Riptide spoke to the Polk County School District about why they felt expulsion was a fair punishment for Wilmot. Their response: kids should learn that “there are consequences to their actions.”Sure, consequences.

I’m all for it.  But they should fit the fucking crime.  You have a good student, which I hear are in short supply nowadays.  So why not detention?  Or a temporary suspension?  She was doing an innocent experiment that went wrong, didn’t hurt anybody or cause any damage, and is getting punished harder than a student that bullies a kid and steals their lunch money or gets into a different fight every month.

The principal’s email address is ronald.pritchard@polk-fl.net.  I just sent him the following email.

I have read the story of her expulsion and I am asking you to reconsider.

According to the story I read, she was a good student with no behavioral problems who was engaging in an act of academic curiosity.  Acts of academic curiosity should be encouraged by the school, even though they may rarely go wrong.  I realize that technically her experiment caused her to unintentionally violate part of the school’s code, but it’s obvious that the spirit of that code is to stop intended violence at the school.  That is not what transpired here and we all know it.

I read that the school’s reaction was:

Riptide spoke to the Polk County School District about why they felt expulsion was a fair punishment for Wilmot. Their response: kids should learn that “there are consequences to their actions.”Sure, consequences.

I’m all for it.  But they should fit the crime.  You have a good student, which I hear are in short supply nowadays.  So why not detention?  Or a temporary suspension?  She was doing an innocent experiment that went wrong, didn’t hurt anybody or cause any damage, and is getting punished harder than a student that bullies a kid and steals their lunch money or gets into a different fight every month. You can’t possibly think that seriously and negatively impacting the future of a good student in this way even comes close to representing justice or fairness.

And what’s the trade off?  Your school and all of its administrators come off looking as if you’re quick to overreact and completely devoid of empathy.

Please do the right thing and reconsider, for your school’s sake and hers.

JT Eberhard

I urge you all to follow suit.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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