School Climate & Safety

Fla. Student Is New Face in Fight Against Zero Tolerance

By Ross Brenneman — May 02, 2013 1 min read
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Science: It gets you expelled.

At Bartow High School, in Bartow, Fla., 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot performed an impromptu, unsupervised chemistry experiment earlier this week: Combining bathroom cleaner with aluminum foil. Bathroom cleaner utilizes hydrochloric acid, and when combined with the otherwise staid aluminum foil, creates a chemical reaction.

Here’s how that experiment looks:

A school resource officer learned of the experiment and arrested Wilmot on April 22. She was taken to a juvenile assessment center, suspended from school, and awaits to hear whether she’ll be charged with possession and discharge of a weapon in school, felony counts. The experiment didn’t leave anyone hurt. (At least she didn’t use cesium.)

The resource officer’s action underscored the growing concern in some quarters that police presence in schools is only fueling the school-to-prison pipeline. The National Rifle Association encourages the hiring of school resource officers, and President Obama supports that idea, too. But many argue that the kind of discipline that goes hand-in-hand with those officers frequently doesn’t help.

Judging from recent news reports, and from the reaction to the Florida episode, there are a lot of Kiera Wilmots, though, and perhaps the attention shown to her case is a sign that there’s significantly diminishing tolerance for zero tolerance.

“Thank goodness she didn’t try the Diet Coke and Mentos trick,” said MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, last night on his opinion show. “She might’ve been hauled off to Gitmo under Florida state law.”

Here’s the full segment:

Update 1 (5/15/2013): According to the Orlando Sentinel, Wilmot’s charges are still being considered. This post has been updated to reflect that.

Update 2 (5/16/13): The Associated Press reports that the state has dropped all charges against Wilmot, but that she will have to complete a disciplinary program.

As for her suspension, press reports seem to indicate that Wilmot had initially been suspended for 10 days, but according to the state attorneys’ office, the full extent of the punishment is still being determined by the school board, which means “10-day suspension” is a questionable assertion. So at the moment, let’s just say that her academic career is still entirely up in the air, almost a month later.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.