School explosion: A zero-tolerance policy did the damage

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Last week, Kiera Wilmot, a smart high school student in Bartow, Fla., did something dumb. The 16-year-old with a clean behavior record wanted to see what would happen if she mixed some common household chemicals in a water bottle at school before classes started.

The small explosion caused the bottle top to pop off and created a puff of smoke. No one was hurt and there was no property damage. The most incendiary reaction came from school officials.

Ms. Wilmot was taken into custody by school security and charged with possession of a weapon and "discharging a destructive device." She was taken to a juvenile center and will be tried as an adult. She was expelled and will have to complete her education through a special program.

School officials, who can't tell the difference between a curious teenager and a member of al-Qaida, said her act was a "serious breach of conduct" that required severe punishment if the district was to "maintain a safe and orderly learning environment."

No one would argue that Ms. Wilmot had made a reckless mistake that deserved punishment. But the harsh consequences inflicted by the school district have caused her saga to go viral, with blog posts and tweets from scientists and science teachers who came to her defense.

Kiera Wilmot's punishment is out of proportion to her offense. Even her principal acknowledged that she wasn't acting maliciously. Although her curiosity got in the way of her caution, no harm was done. The real weapon of destruction here is a school administration mindset that operates with no discretion.



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