When Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense

Sixteen-year-old Kiera Wilmot, “known among staff for her exemplary record at Bartow High School and her status as a good student,” has been expelled from her high school:

The teen is accused of mixing household chemicals in a tiny 8-ounce water bottle, causing the top to pop off, followed by billowing smoke in an small explosion. Wilmot’s friends and classmates said it was “a science project gone bad, that she never meant to hurt anyone.”

Jesse Walker summarizes the rest of the story:

So: No one was hurt. There’s no sign that Wilmot was up to something malevolent. The kid’s own principal thinks this wasn’t anything more than an experiment, and he says she didn’t try to cover up what she had done. What punishment did you think she received? A stern talking-to? A day or two of after-school detention? Maybe she’ll have to help clean up the lab for a week?

Nope. The budding chemist has been kicked out of school and charged with a couple of felonies.

Update from a dissenting reader and teacher:

The police say the student was trying to create what’s known as a “Works Bomb”.  The chemicals aren’t stuff she got from the chem lab, and the “experiment” was not part of class or even an extrapolation from a different assignment.  This was chemicals she brought from home with the purpose of blowing something up.

Basically, they mix drain cleaner with aluminum foil and seal the bottle.  Chemical reactions occur, pressure builds and, eventually, an explosion happens. In this case, she used the wrong bottle and the pop top released the pressure before it exploded.  Still, the fumes and chemicals are dangerous in and of themselves.

The videos on YouTube of works bombs include warnings like:

***CAUTION*** Works Bombs can and are highly dangerous to both your outsides and your insides!!! Do NOT stand anywhere near one of these explosives as it goes off as you will suffer from serious injuries or worse… and most definitely do NOT approach the works bomb afterwards while it is still fuming without a proper mask AND gloves … as the chemicals in this mix can lead to BLINDNESS, LUNG IRRITATION AND BURNING, SKIN IRRITATION AND BURNING, and if you breath in enough of this chemical it will KILL YOU!

While I don’t know her and can’t gauge her motives or level of understanding, as a teacher I can tell you there’s no way we can allow kids to create explosions on school grounds.  Ignoring the moral problems with allowing students to place others in danger, the legal liabilities if someone were to get hurt would cut deep into already woefully inadequate school funding.

You can talk to the police about whether two felony charges is an overreaction. But from a school perspective, there isn’t a school punishment too large for a student who does this type of stuff on campus.