Sixteen-year-old Kiera Wilmot was working on a science project at Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida, before school last Monday when she went outside to mix common household chemicals in an eight-ounce plastic water bottle that caused the bottle’s top to pop off and produced some smoke. The school decided to have her arrested and charged with a felony.
The high school junior previously received good grades and maintained a perfect behavior record. No one was injured and no damage caused. Keira told police she was conducting a science fair experiment that called for mixing toilet bowl cleaner and pieces of aluminum foil.
Bartow High Principal Ron Pritchard seemed to agree. He told reporters, “She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone. She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did.”
Shortly after the chemical reaction produced a small pop before school last Monday morning, Kiera was taken into custody by a school resources officer who, after consulting the local prosecutor, charged Kiera with possessing or discharging weapons or firearms on school property and making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any destructive device. The Miami New Times reported that she will be tried as an adult.
Kiera was expelled from school and will be forced to complete her diploma through an expulsion program. The Polk County School District, when asked why they felt expulsion was a fair punishment, told reporters that kids should learn “there are consequences to their actions.”
EJI previously reported on the growing problem of criminalizing school behavior, which has resulted in what advocates call a “school-to-jail pipeline” that disproportionately impacts poor kids and children of color. The national expulsion rates for minority children are disproportionately high and have contributed to the huge achievement gap between minority and non-minority children in the United States.