A week ago, 16-year old Kiera Wilmot was arrested on felony charges for something she did in a classroom at her high school. She was charged with the possession and discharge of a weapon on school grounds, and expelled from school. She is being held in a juvenile center, but will be tried as an adult.
Does this story sound familiar? We’re living in a time in which students committing acts of violence in schools is becoming front-page news all too often. Gun violence like what occurred at Sandy Hook has horrified a nation and sent schools into a panic, searching for ways to protect their students. It is a sad truth, but we are almost used to hearing horror stories of students threatening fellow students with violence at school.
However, Kiera’s story is different. She did not bring a gun to school. She didn’t phone in a bomb threat. Kiera’s crime? Performing a science experiment in her school’s chemistry lab. She mixed a few household chemicals together in an 8 oz bottle, causing the top to blow off and produce some smoke. No one was injured, and no school property was damaged. The principal described it as an accident. But Kiera was still arrested, expelled and will now have to face a felony record for the rest of her life if convicted.
What makes the story more controversial is that Kiera is a person of color. Would a white student from an affluent household be facing the same treatment? It’s a valid question. Regardless of whether there is any racial component at play, this arrest and expulsion will affect the rest of this student’s life. It’s a ridiculous, exaggerated punishment, most likely because the school wants to make an example of this one student to ensure that they are fully committed to school safety.
There’s a petition in place on Change.org to drop the felony charges against Kiera Wilmot. You can sign it, and hopefully do a little good. We can also consider what kind of culture we are creating in schools when a harmless accident in the science lab can result in a student’s expulsion and arrest. What does it say about our schools when students accused of rape get to stay in school and play on their football teams, but one girl causing a minor chemical reaction in a school environment gets arrested? What kind of priorities do our schools systems have? If students are constantly terrified of conducting science experiments in class, what will that do to our future scientific community? It’s impossible to create a perfectly sanitized environment for students to live in, and that shouldn’t be our goal. Yes, student safety is incredibly important, but so is common sense, and that seems to be lacking in the authorities in charge of punishing Kiera Wilmot for a harmless accident.
Featured image via ShutterStock