Kiera Wilmot said she thought the combination would make smoke, but it actually produced a tiny explosion. The girl did her experiment about 7 a.m. while she and other students were waiting around for the school day to start. A nearby student described the explosion as sounding like a firecracker. Nobody was hurt or threatened. Kiera stayed where she was and explained to school employees exactly what had happened.
Then this student with a perfect record was arrested and taken to a juvenile jail and charged with the felonies of “making, possessing or discharging a destructive device” and “possessing or discharging weapons on school grounds.” In today’s schools, there can be zero tolerance for mistakes born of teen-age bad judgement.
Everybody agrees that it was just an experiment that went wrong. Although Kiera called it a science experiment, it wasn’t an official school experiment of any kind. It appears she was just curious. So she did what many of us did as children. She tried it to see what would happen.
The school’s principal told WTSP-TV news that Kiera isn’t a troubled teen.
“She is a good kid,” said principal Ron Pritchard. “She has never been in trouble before. Ever.”
So why is she facing felony charges for making a simple mistake? It seems that U.S. school administrators have lost the ability to use judgement. As a society, we seem so bent on imposing rigid rules on everyone that few people in authority are willing to exercise judgement based on a child’s intent. Instead, things that would have been handled inside a school’s disciplinary system in the past are now made into criminal offenses.
Intent matters. Based on everything I can see, Kiera didn’t have bad intent. She made a mistake in judgement, but it’s a mistake that I might just as easily have made when I was 16.
Actually, an assistant principal at my high school once caught a friend and me breaking into our school on a weekend. I was just curious whether we could. But instead of calling police, the assistant principal agreed to my request that he call the principal at home and see if he would allow me to go inside and get something. The call was made. I went inside and got whatever I claimed I needed, and a foolish teen-age adventure was over without police ever being involved. (Thanks, Mr. Tucker and Mr. Hamner.)
The people who pushed “zero tolerance” policies on schools have the idea that children will be safer if we don’t allow leeway and judgement by people in authority. In this case — and in others like it — nobody is going to be any safer, but the life of one young girl has been irreparably damaged.
Zero tolerance is code for “no reasonable judgement allowed.”