You may have heard the sad tale of Florida high school student Kiera Wilmot, who is facing hardcore consequences—she was expelled from school and faces criminal charges—for what most everyone agrees was an innocent mistake arising out of her scientific curiosity.
Seems that on April 22, Kiera, who her principal calls a “good kid… who has never been in trouble before,” was out in a field at her school conducting what she called a “science fair experiment.” She apparently mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a small plastic bottle, which caused a firecracker-like “pop” and a bit of smoke. No damage was caused, no one was hurt, classes weren’t disrupted, and Kiera explained that she absolutely meant no harm.
And yet, Kiera was kicked out of school and arrested. The police charged her with discharging a weapon and a destructive device, and the school district said that her “experiment” violated district policy and that they “simply must uphold our code of conduct rules.”
Well, the internet took none too kindly to what tons of folks perceived as a horrible injustice. A change.org petition was started demanding that the charges against Kiera be dropped and that she be allowed to return to school, and scientists launched a Twitter campaign in her defense in which they talk about all the experiments they’ve had go wrong in the name of science. Mix in the fact that Kiera is African-American and this case takes on additional levels of concern and controversy.
Our hunch is that most of us feel Kiera is getting a raw deal and think, "Wow, that could have been me!" What should happen when even the most innocent and harmless “mistakes” run head-first into schools’ “zero tolerance” policies? In a time of Newtown and Boston and other horrible tragedies, how do schools and students balance safety with the sometimes messy reality of science or curiosity or just plain teenage boneheadedness? Should Kiera, or any of us for that matter, be treated just as harshly for an innocent and harmless mistake as some other kid who did something intentionally destructive, damaging or harmful?
We hope cooler heads will prevail and Kiera can get back to school and on with her life and education. Curiosity and an interest in science are things that should be encouraged, not punished. While mistakes do sometimes have consequences, not all mistakes deserve to be treated with a horrible penalty. Except when it comes to mixing nine different things in a blender. Then you should have to drink the whole thing no matter what.
Sparklers, what do you think should be done?