In Florida, High School Student Kiera Wilmot’s Curiosity Is a Crime?!

Fed up with the school-to-prison pipeline? Take action!

Earlier this week, the well-oiled school-to-prison pipeline once again moved swiftly and fiercely to criminalize kids. This time, the pipeline delivered 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot to the open arms of a Florida Assistant State Attorney (ASA).

Wilmot, a student at Bartow High School in Polk County, Florida, mixed together household chemicals on school grounds to see what might happen. For this youthful experiment, she found herself arrested and charged as an adult when the concoction caused a minor explosion. The only casualty at the scene of this supposed crime? A plastic bottle.

Wilmot is regarded as an excellent student and has "never been in trouble, ever," according to her principal Ron Pritchard. At the urging of a fellow classmate, she combined toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in an 8-ounce bottle. To her surprise, the top popped off and the concoction began to smoke, followed by a small explosion. Responding to a call by the assistant principal who observed the incident, a school resource officer took Wilmot into custody and delivered her to the ASA. The ASA charged Wilmot with two felonies and filed her case in adult court. Wilmot, who cooperated completely with both the assistant principal and the officer, said she did not mean to harm or frighten anyone. Nonetheless, the school automatically expelled her for violating the conduct code, forcing Wilmot to complete her high school education through an expulsion program.

Following the charges, the Polk County School District released a statement unequivocally defending the choice to expel Wilmot: "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." Thanks to the school's zero-tolerance approach, what it could have treated as a minor mishap deserving of stern but reasonable punishment has devolved into an expulsion and criminal offense that could both haunt Wilmot for the rest of her life.

According the Florida department of juvenile justice, the state's counties average ten school-related delinquency arrests per 1,000 students per year. Polk County, Florida, where Wilmot is a student, arrests more than two times the average number of students—21 per 1,000 each year—making the county one of the state's most dramatic examples of the school-to-prison pipeline in action. The county's choice to rely on police for discipline means kids are far more likely to be arrested for minor offenses and funneled into the criminal justice system. This is exactly what happened to Wilmot.

After being contacted by the school resource officer, Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty advised that Wilmot be charged with "possessing or discharging weapons or firearms on school property" and "making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any destructive device," both felonies under Florida law. The choice to levy these charges on Wilmot, and to try her as an adult, were entirely Glotfelty's—she was not bound by Florida law to dole out these severe charges. Still, she exercised her prosecutorial discretion to the fullest extent and, in so doing, senselessly endangered the promising future of a sixteen-year old child.

The confluence of the school's insistence on a zero-tolerance interpretation of their code of conduct and Glotfelty's decision to criminalize Wilmot for a harmless mistake powerfully illustrates the absurdity of these inflexible approaches to school discipline. Treating Wilmot's accidental mini-explosion as a criminal offense is an outrageous response to what was simply the product of youthful experimentation. All children make mistakes born of curiosity or peer pressure, and that is exactly what happened here. To needlessly treat these kids as criminal is not only foolish and unnecessary—it's a sure path to reinforcing the school to prison pipeline.

Support Kiera Wilmot. Criminalizing a child's experiment? The school-to-prison pipeline has reached a new low.

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Anonymous

Good thing she isn't of middle eastern decent otherwise this would be breaking news of a terrorist who had ties to the Boston marathon bombers

Captain Ric

Yes - well that figures. I can bet she was a minority and if so - she already lost! The police will do ANYTHING they can to inhibit the education and growth of minorities. I know a police office that if he caught a white kid with marijuana he would write him a ticket for simple possession. If it was a black kid he would PROUDLY arrest him for felony distribution. This sort of stuff happens every where in this country thousands of times per day.This particular police officer bragged to his buddies how he arrested the star quarterback and straight A student council leader who was on a great track to an engineering degree and ruined his chances of meaningful employment in the future.

Anonymous

It's Polk County. I wouldn't expect anything else. The sheriff creates crimes so he can get his name in the papers and on television. I lived in the county next to Polk for 18 years and wouldn't spend a dime there as long as he was sheriff.

Anonymous

You know, the way they word this makes it seem like she was innocent. Upon further thought though, I wonder why she would have tried an experiment on school property in the first place without being in a classroom. She did not have a science project assigned, nor did any of her teachers know anything about her doing an experiment. 7am is before school even starts. This girl had to have done research on what household products to mix, and brought them all to school herself, which means 1) she pre-planned doing this at school and 2) it makes me wonder what she was trying to accomplish by doing it at school to begin with. She did not have permission from the school, it was before school started but on school grounds, she was not in a classroom under adult supervision, none of her teachers knew she was doing this, her own mother didn't even have a clue, and she had no reason for doing it such as a science project. The article they are encouraging people to click on is trying to make it a "race" issue because she's black, when the reality is that she broke several school rules and deserves expulsion. If it was a white boy who did this, you'd never hear about it. There would never be a petition to drop charges. You know why? Because they would automatically look at him as a hoodlem teen causing trouble on school property and send him straight to juvenile detention w/out batting an eye. And OK, maybe the girl had no intentions of hurting anyone, BUT it's clear that she was pushing the rules by making a homemade explosive device. I don't care what color she is, she had no business doing that. Not to mention, think of what would have happened if someone HAD gotten hurt?? Then what?? You can't just say "well nobody got hurt this time" and have no type of formal reprimand, because someone else could come along, do the SAME thing, hurt someone, and then what? I'm personally glad to see a school step up and take the initiative to keep their students and staff SAFE, whether it was meant for harm or not, it's way too close to the Boston Marathon bombings which were also "homemade bombs". As I recall, three people died and hundreds were injured, so why should this girl get off scott-free just because she "didn't hurt anybody this time" or "made a bad choice"?? It's not like she's 9 or 10. She's 16 and I'm sure she's very much aware of the rules and very much aware of the fact that it was not OK. That's probably why she didn't tell anybody, including her mother, and did it before school even started. She was trying to break the rules and see how far she could push w/out reprimand. Should the Boston Marathon bombers have gotten off scott-free if nobody died or was injured? Hell NO! The fact is that, despite what color a person is, rules are set in place for people to have and respect boundaries. Clearly she did not respect the boundaries set in place for her safety or the safety of others. If she's so smart and such a noteworthy student, then you would think she'd have the brains to know better. And of course, now they are screaming "because she's black!" well guess what? It has nothing to do with her race people. Get over it. It's because she broke specific rules and endangered herself and others by a VERY stupid act. I think it's fabulous that she is being reprimanded, maybe it will make other crazy teenagers think twice before doing stupid acts like this!!!!!!

Anonymous

Teens are known for their lack of judgement. While some may have the book smarts, that does not very often translate into other kind of smarts. This is a known and true thing. Worthy of being expelled? Perhaps. That was up to the school to interpret their code in that way.

Worthy of having the protection and rights as a minor being waived and arrested and charged as an adult with specious looking felonies? No, not really. Other people can bring race into it, if they want to. I simply want answers as to why the response was so heavy handed, especially when the law does not warrant it.

Others think the reasons are due to race and gender and the school-to-prison pipeline that is in operation in Polk County and all over this nation. That is also a true and real thing.

If you think that what Kiera did was "too soon" and "too close" to the Boston Bombings and therefore the actions taken by the prosecutor are ok and just and fair: then the terrorists have already won.

You are saying that if Kiera had done her experiment a week earlier, she might have still gotten expelled, but never would she have been charged as an adult with felonies and arrested. Or even if she was arrested, she would still be considered a minor, a child under the law. You are telling me that terrorists are dictating how we treat our children.

You are also telling me, that all of that is ok.

Well it isn't ok. I don't want to live in the America that lets terrorists decide that it is ok to criminalize our kids.

Hence the petitions. Hence people grasping at straws trying to understand the injustice that was meted out on Kiera. Hence the cries of racism. People are trying to find reasons for actions taken that just do not make any kind of sense.

I'm not saying those things are right either. What I'm saying is calm should have prevailed, not a kneejerk reaction to current events.

So I'm backing those petitions, and I'm backing all efforts to make sure that Kiera does not have her future stolen from her because the one person who should have had the wherewithall to set aside panic and fear, and who's job it actually is to conduct their business without those emotions, did not.

Anonymous

please fight for her right to not be made to attend a school for 'troubled youth' the quality of education there is already poor enough, she needs all the help she can get... to get the best education possible in already a county were ingnorance is a virtue... i grew up there...

Barry Kort

What would be the prospect of finding a scholarship fund to send Kiera and her twin sister to a quality school where they could get a good education in math and science without being subjected to the unwholesome machinations of a toxic and dispiriting bureaucracy?

See also this discussion thread on the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Forum calling for an organized response from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Educators:

Call for Response from STEM Educators: Sixteen-year old honor student, Kiera Wilmot, expelled, arrested and charged with a felony over a commonplace science project.

Anonymous

Her principal is a racist ASSH0LE.

Anonymous

When my son was in school, one of his best friends apparently became interested in making explosives -- not for any "sinister" reasons, but simply because he could. I found this out because the boy's mother was very upset and called me to request that I ask my son, who she believed to be level-headed and responsible, to discourage her son from doing this. I was pretty upset to learn that this was going on, and had a long talk with my son about physical dangers, legal dangers, social dangers, etc. etc. He didn't really see the problem. They were "small explosions," he wasn't building them ("just watching, mom"), and it wasn't his place to tell his friend what to do.

Worried that these kids were antisocial, or criminal, or any number of things, I went to a several people with my concerns. My father-in-law, a chemical engineer, told me that when he was a kid he went out to the woods and blew things up all the time. Not to worry. A good friend, an electrical engineer, had done the same. The head of a school system science and assessment departments said the same thing, as did a middle school science teacher. Each of these men is intelligent, all were good students, and all have advanced degrees from highly respected institutions. Each of them has a good job in which he is successful. All of them said bright boys like to blow things up, they had, and I shouldn't worry. The boys weren't disaffected or antisocial, just bright and curious boys. I thought they were a little cavalier about the dangers, but I was reassured that I wasn't dealing with suburban terrorists. Of course, that didn't stop me from threatening grounding for life and any number of other punishments if I heard of any further experiments of this sort. But, my friends were right -- both kids went on to excellent colleges, have master's degrees, and are now successfully employed model citizens. I'm grateful they still have all their fingers.

Apparently there is a long tradition of "bright kids blowing things up." Not for malicious reasons but out of curiosity. Doesn't mean we don't try to stop them, for all the reasons. But we should recognize that kids are kids, and channel their curiosity appropriately, not attempt to ruin their lives. Obviously the Polk County school system isn't interested in encouraging bright students, especially minority girls. Hopefully benefactors will make sure this young woman has every opportunity to succeed - she certainly can't count on her school system to help her.

Anonymous

Hey apparently it is a crime. Is the ACLU going to take on this?

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/30/local/la-me-0531-disneyland-expl...

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