Honor student expelled for science project

A chemistry-loving, cello-playing honor student was expelled and charged with two felonies for her science project. Kiera Wilmot wanted to demonstrate a chemical reaction simulating a volcanic eruption. The Florida girl was charged with bringing an explosive device to school and discharging it.

She is a good kid,” said Bartow High School principal Ron Pritchard. “She has never been in trouble before. Ever.”

Kiera was sent to an “opportunity center” with easy classes and no homework, she wrote in the Huffington Post.

Prosecutors dropped the charges, but it will take five years to clear her record. That could interfere with her dreams of earning a degree “in technology design and engineering.” She wants “a career building robots that can do tasks like surgeries or driving cars.”

Opposition to “zero tolerance” policies continues to grow, reports Reason. The School Discipline Consensus Report  by the Council of State Governments Justice Center recommends scaling back suspensions and expulsions “handed down by school administrators over minor and even accidental rule infractions.”

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  1. When Fred Hoyle was a boy he was an extremally dangerous amateur chemist and I think he almost burned down the house once. I also think he was expelled from school once although not for trying to blow it up.

  2. This isn’t a “zero tolerance” case. Had the child actually committed the crimes with which she was charged, nobody would have a problem with her expulsion.

    As much problem as I have with zero tolerance rules, this one really does come down to the principal and the school officer failing to exercise basic common sense.

    Back in my day it was the teachers who liked to perform this type of experiment in front of the class. I had multiple demonstrations of the burning of ammonium dichromate to simulate a volcanic reaction, of what happens when you drop phosphorus into water, and the like. Doesn’t that happen any more?

    • The whole point of zero tolerance is to avoid having to exercise judgment.

      It really does make sense.

      There’s no upside to exercising good judgment but plenty of downside for poor judgment and plenty of downside if there’s even tangential responsibility for any mishap. For any professional the less judgment they have to exercise the better of they are and of course that plays right into the preferences of some people who don’t want any responsibility. Just authority.

  3. Yet another child has a love of learning and knowledge forcibly removed by school. It’ll be a long time before this girl has another independent thought, which is the goal of public education…these days.

  4. My project in Biology II was (with a partner) was building a distillery (fermentation, chemistry, etc), we managed to crank out stuff which was 180 proof (90% alcohol by volume), and if done today, would get us arrested.

    It’s stupid administrators and school boards with their idiotic zero tolerance nonsense which has ruined education for a boatload of kids.

    I would HATE to be in public school these days.


    • I am a laboratory safety professional, with multiple degrees in the field, who has written multiple chemical hygiene plans and analyzed numerous laboratories for chemical safety. And I would have loved to have worked with this girl to keep the demonstration safe, but exciting. (Plexiglass shields and ventilation are your friends, as are long-handled lighters) I’ve done the dichromate demo before. It looks very much like a volcano, and is my favorite demo of a decomposition reaction. Couldn’t the chemistry teacher supervise her during her demonstration, or even light the dichromate while the student explains what’s going on?

      We have a culture where liability is God. Common sense can get you sued and fired. Better to ruthless enforce every letter of the policies, because then you can’t be sued. If you want to end zero tolerance, create exemptions like the good samaritan rule, where a principal cannot be sued for a good-faith judgment call.