• Zero Tolerance, Double Standards, Common Sense And You.

    Almost every schoolkid has had the opportunity of taking part in a science project. Ever since the Space Race and the subsequent national imperative to gift kids with "the right stuff" to kick ass in the hard sciences, science projects have practically become the cornerstone of the public (and private) education experience. Yours truly had his fair share of messing with noxious chemicals, dissecting starfish, polishing mirrors and watching stuff get blown up, frozen and knocked around. For science.

    Of course, there's always the science project that goes wrong. Most times when it isn't life or property-threatening, it's usually hilarious. Hollywood tells us so. Apparently, the fine folks of Polk County Schools didn't think what 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot did was funny, even if it was purely by accident:

    A 16-year-old Bartow High School student was arrested Monday on allegations she detonated a bottle of explosive materials on the school grounds.

    No one was hurt in the morning explosion, nor was school property damaged, said Principal Ron Pritchard.

    Kiera Roslyn Wilmot* was charged with making, possessing or discharging a destructive device and with possessing or discharging weapons on school grounds. Both charges are felonies.

    The girl told authorities she was conducting a science experiment, according to Bartow police, but science teachers at the school said they knew nothing about it. She also said she thought the materials would produce only smoke, not an explosion, police said.

    According to the story, there wasn't any malicious intent. Just a 16-year-old kid who didn't think this experiment through. Besides, mixing up household chemicals at 7 in the morning in a sparsely-populated area in the hopes of making a little smoke isn't on par with, say, wiring up a PVC pipe bomb and shoving it under a teacher's desk just in time for homeroom. Nevertheless, she was placed under arrest:

    Pritchard said he was standing nearby when the student left the drink bottle behind the cafeteria, near the lake on the school's east side.

    "It was next to the gazebo by the lake," he said. "I wasn't standing too far away when it happened. I just heard the pop, and I turned around. I thought it was a firecracker at first."

    Household materials were used to create the explosion, said Bartow police Lt. Gary McLin. He declined to say what those materials were, but said the information is available through the Internet.

    Pritchard said the girl didn't leave the area after the bottle exploded.

    "She left it on the ground, and she stayed there," he said. "We went over to where she was. She saw that we saw her, so she didn't take off."

    He said she was taken to the school's office, where police took her into custody.

    The explosion occurred about 7 a.m., about the time classes started.

    "There weren't a lot of kids there," Pritchard said. "There were maybe half a dozen kids in the area where she was, and nobody was hurt by it."

    Wilmot was transported to the county's Juvenile Assessment Center in Bartow following her arrest.

    Adult felony charges for blowing the cap off a water bottle, something that grown adults do with a pack of Mentos and a two-liter of Coke.

    Not long after Wilmot’s experiment, authorities arrested her and charged her with “possession/discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device,” according to WTSP-TV. The school district proceeded to expel Wilmot for handling the “dangerous weapon,” also known as a water bottle. She will have to complete her high school education through an expulsion program.

    Given the likes of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev, among others and America's overall skittishness when it comes to anything that could potentially be construed as "terrorism," it's little wonder things are playing out the way they are for Kiera. "Zero tolerance" also has a lot to do with it, too.

    Most public schools today are big on zero tolerance policies that punitively punish students in this manner. It's a win for administrators who want to maintain ironclad discipline and remain tough in the face of the "post-9/11" environment. When it comes to zero tolerance, there's no nuance, no exceptions and little, if anything, in the way of considerations - in most cases, school administrators will blindly follow policy because it's the path of least resistance (and liability). It's how victims of bullying end up expelled after defending themselves or how students are placed in cuffs for bringing an aspirin to school.

    It's how a student with a stellar academic record and a clean disciplinary record may end up with a felony record, something that'll kneecap her education and career prospects right off the bat. Her induction into the annals of the U.S. justice system may snuff out any sort of spark she had before. You don't need a gun to kill  a promising young black person - just shove them into the school-to-prison pipeline using zero tolerance policies and watch as they die an agonizingly slow death.

    I can't help but think if any considerations would have been made if she was a bit more "photogenic" in a "mainstream" way. Or maybe if she was a clean-cut male student with a promising future and plenty of remorse for his actions. I just hope that school district administrators and law enforcement officials manage to find some common sense and not railroad a young woman into a bleak future.

    *Address removed.