Kiera Wilmot is a sixteen-year-old student with good grades and a “perfect” behavior record. Or at least she was. She has been expelled from her Florida school after creating a small chemical reaction that caused no damage or harm, and additionally been arrested and charged with possession and discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device. According to the Miami New Times, she will be tried as an adult.
From the Miami New Times:
On 7 a.m. on Monday, the 16 year-old mixed some common household chemicals in a small 8 oz water bottle on the grounds of Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida. The reaction caused a small explosion that caused the top to pop up and produced some smoke. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.
The “common household chemicals” were later revealed to be toilet cleaner and tin foil. When confronted, according to her principal, Ron Pritchard, Wilmot didn’t attempt to evade questioning or to lie. “She told us everything and was very honest… We had a long conversation with her,” where Wilmot explained that she’d done it to see the chemical reaction it produced, “and was shocked by what it did.” In Pritchard’s opinion, “She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone.” “She is a good kid,” he told a local news outlet, “She has never been in trouble before. Ever.”
And yet, instead of suspension, a talking to, and a recruitment into AP Chemistry, Wilmot has been expelled under the school’s code of conduct (more on that later) and will have to continue her education in an expulsion program. She has also been arrested and faces adult felony charges, which in the state of Florida can carry hurdles to her later employment, education, housing, and even her right to vote (hat tip to Elizabeth Prout). In this context a mere school expulsion seems to pale in comparison, but it’s at least worth pointing out, as Feministing’s Sesali Bowen does, that Bartow High School’s code of conduct requires that “intention” be considered when applying the zero tolerance rule on weapons on school grounds. Despite her own principal’s stated belief that she didn’t intend to hurt anyone (it bears repeating that no one was, in fact, hurt), Wilmot has still been expelled.
The Bartow school district issued this statement on Tuesday:
Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. 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.
Certainly, sixteen year olds should learn that there are “consequences to actions.” But at the same time… trying a dedicated sixteen year old student with no disruptive record as an adult because of an accident that harmed no one and caused no property damage? The connection between Wilmot’s race (she is black) and the arrest; the possibility that her skin color may have colored the perception of her actions by the school district and police; is near unavoidable, as Sesali Bowen discusses in her post on Wilmot:
When we talk about the criminalization of communities and people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos in America, we often talk about the criminal justice system in America that disproportionately targets those communities. Schools are often the major accomplices… This is not about the “safety and security” of students and staff at Bartow High School. This was about setting an example, at the expense of Wilmot, and sending a message that even (mis)perceived threats will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. The unfortunate truth is that in America, those perceptions are heavily tied up in notions of race, class, and gender.
Elizabeth Prout discusses this further in her brief post on Wilmot’s arrest for Technology & Women in Indiana.
It seems, at least according to local news, that many of Wilmot’s classmates believe that she did not intend to harm anyone. Hopefully someone up the legal pipeline from her initial arrest will feel the same way.