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.

  • Jim Guillory

    I am confident that the next time the school’s star linebacker breaks the shoulder/wrist/arm of the other team’s quarterback, he will be immediatedly expelled for causing serious bodily injury. After all, intent is not relevant and there must be consequences. Right?

    • unbound55

      Why draw the line on a broken bone? Even a concussion in their any of the high school sports, which is far more common than broken bones, is still a larger impact to other students than the explosion that just startled people.

      • Loqi

        Go even farther. Since you’ll get in trouble for hitting another student regardless of whether it caused an injury, any tackle ought to be punished.

  • Kodie

    I might even go so far as to say the school is responsible. Since “explosion” is one of the things that can happen when you mix chemicals, they obviously skipped the safety lecture advising students to conduct such experiments with supervision while wearing goggles and gloves and smocks or whatever you do in chemistry class. She could have put her own eye out or been splashed and gotten a chemical burn. What about her safety that the school wasn’t looking out for? And why were they leaving these materials available? Did she bring the toilet cleaner from home or did she have access to the janitorial supply?

  • http://twitter.com/HeatherLynn117 Heather Dawn Lynn

    In high school, we did all kinds of experiments. Hell, my friends bought a bunch of iron and magnesium to do a thermite reaction that melted through a railroad tie (not in use on an actual railroad, btw). This is bullshit, pure and simple, and the punishment of intellectually curious people is a sign of a rotting education system.

  • Glodson

    What reactionary garbage.

  • Erülóra Maikalambe

    When the school’s administration finds themselves getting a lot of negative publicity for this, they should remind themselves: “there are consequences to their actions.”

  • Nate Frein

    “Intent is not magic” to me applies to situations where other people are hurt or damage is caused. Good intent doesn’t justify harming someone or their property.

    Which means, of course, that “intent is not magic” simply does not apply here. She’s a bloody student! We expect students to make mistakes! What the hell do we do to our children’s inquisitiveness if we punish it like this?

  • http://www.dougberger.net Doug B.

    She made a MacGyver Bomb even if she didn’t know she did and that would explain the nasty response from the school, Those things aren’t harmless – she got lucky

    http://youtu.be/FX-L1nI76Fk

    • Nate Frein

      Without any kind of object used to showcase the actual damage potential, all that video shows is that it gives a nice bang.

    • Glodson

      It isn’t that what she did wasn’t foolish. It was. And it is being charitable calling it a science experiment. But it doesn’t warrant the response it has gotten. That’s my problem.

  • JKPS

    Terrible. A temporary suspension would have sufficed – it’s good to exercise curiosity; not so go to be casual when playing with science. But expulsion? Being charged and tried as an adult? That’s madness. This is what happens when we let fear get in the way of rationality.

    Also, how was she conducting this experiment? I mean to say, where were her teachers? Shouldn’t they have been supervising and therefore held partially responsible, if they’re going to take it this far?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.kohler.338 Andrew Kohler

    I found an online petition on behalf of this young woman:

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/470/521/437/dont-charge-florida-girl-with-felony-for-science-experiment/?z00m=20547883

    I took a look at the police report (which I found via the article to which JT links above):

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/138927259/Wilmot-Arrest

    The gist is that she conducted this experience by the gazebo/lake at 7 am, using an 8 oz. water bottle. Her teachers said they were unaware of it. As far as I can tell, the problem here is that she didn’t get proper authorization or go through the proper safety instructions. I would be curious to know (this gets to what Kodie and JKPS have brought up) exactly
    what the school’s policy is and in what way she violated it. Perhaps the science teachers did not do a good job at explaining safety procedures? I would have to know a bit more to determine exactly what consequences she should face, but even if she did violate clearly stated rules I would still say that 1) expulsion is an extreme measure, especially for a first offense and 2) there is no reason that this should be anything other than an internal issue within the school. To ascribe criminal intent is preposterous. Which brings me to:

    Often on this blog it has been noted that intention is not all that matters, in such cases as parents who pray for their children instead of getting them medical care. But here we are talking about a teenager, not adult parents with responsibilities toward their children, and the error is hardly on the same scale. She clearly was not trying to blow up her school–she did this out by the “gazebo/lake area” according to the report–and the problem is clearly that she was ill-informed about what she was doing. Certainly the school needs to take action when a student has done something dangerous, even innocently (it’s very luck no one was hurt), but criminalizing students for mistakes of this kind, thereby potentially ruining their futures with a felony conviction, does nothing good for anyone.

  • sparkyb

    They say that kids need to learn there are consequences to their actions. But all this teaches is that one little accident, one little lapse in judgement can fuck your whole life up. That’s not really a useful lesson because the goal of a lesson is to learn something you can apply to similar situations in the future. That’s not very realistic in this case because a) even if she’s overcautious about everything she does in the future (which is not a reasonable way to expect anyone to live anyway) an accident could still happen, and b) it’s too late to apply this caution because she’s already kicked out of school and pretty screwed.

  • Greg G.

    Some things don’t add up. If she was expecting smoke, why did she cap the bottle? Where did the ingredients come from? It would be easier to obtain them at home than at school. Were there other students watching? Next week it may have been a 2 liter bottle and a bigger explosion. It’s a cool experiment unless someone gets hurt. Then we’d be asking why the school didn’t do something sooner.

    I think the reaction of the school might be too harsh in this case but the appropriate punishment is usually too harsh in some people’s opinions and too lenient for others.

    • Katet

      So you figure it’s possible that there is a situation where it is acceptable to some people to expel a 16 year old who is a good student, and charge her as an adult with two felony weapon charges, for popping the cap off a soda bottle? Seriously?

      • Greg G.

        Did you read all the way to my last sentence?

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    Something no one’s brought up here is the matter of race. Kiera Wilmot is African-American.

    How many of you just went “ohh” and realized that the overreaction made more sense now? Not that it’s justified, but that now the overreaction of the authorities isn’t such a surprise anymore? This young woman is being punished for the color of her skin, not her experiment.

  • Larry Clapp

    Thousands of years ago, there were terrible consequences for minor crimes. Then Hammurabi’s Code came out, with rules like “an eye for an eye”, meaning if you blinded someone the state doesn’t kill you, they just blind you, too. Let the punishment fit the crime.

    It’s kind of sad that a similar revolution in law is once again required.

    • Glodson

      What the hell are you talking about? Or did you just manage to string words together randomly?

      The Code of Hammurabi was remarkable for the fact that one of the first known examples of codified laws, and a lengthy example of early writing. It also featured laws that enacted different punishments for the same crime along lines of social standings.

      So, yeah…. not needed so much.

      • Larry Clapp

        My point was that the punishment in the case really doesn’t fit the crime, and that Hammurabi’s Code, for all its many faults, was one of (the?) first legal codes where the goal was for the punishment to fit the crime, and was thus revolutionary for its time. (Or I may’ve completely misunderstood Hammurabi’s Code. That’s possible too.)

        We look at it now and say “oh my god how barbaric” (blinding, really?), and yet even “an eye for an eye” would make more sense than expelling someone and bringing charges as an adult for a comparatively minor infraction. Frankly, I’m not sure how to make the punishment fit the crime in this case, but I am sure that the offered punishment doesn’t.

        Anyway: so my general point was it’s really weird that after a couple of thousand years, we once again need some kind of revolution in law where (gasp) the punishment fits the crime. This zero tolerance shit is for the birds. Or, more apropos, for the pre-Hammurabi Babylonians.

        Is that any clearer or do you still think I’m a babbling (hah) moron?

        • Glodson

          My point was that the punishment in the case really doesn’t fit the
          crime, and that Hammurabi’s Code, for all its many faults, was one of
          (the?) first legal codes where the goal was for the punishment to fit
          the crime, and was thus revolutionary for its time. (Or I may’ve
          completely misunderstood Hammurabi’s Code. That’s possible too.)

          Sorry, I jumped the gun. I read your message as saying she deserved the punishment. This is my mistake, and for that, I apologize.

          The Code is remarkable for a number of reasons, but in the end, I agree with your points just not your assessment of the Code. It wasn’t really fair, but it did lay out the law for all to see. I cannot say if that was the norm or not for the time, as this is just one when have hard evidence for. I would have to dig to see if there are other examples.

          This is besides the point. You’re right, and I mistook your comment. For that, I apologize.


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