Should a science project gone awry lead to a teenage girl getting arrested, subjected to a mug shot, and expelled from school? According to reports, for 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot, ”It all started with a water bottle and a teenager’s curiosity.” And unfortunately, after Kiera mixed the contents of that small water bottle with some household chemicals, the ”top flew off the bottle and a cloud of smoke erupted.”
It honestly sounds like a scene from of one of those child-centered sitcoms on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel. So why is Kiera being treated like a criminal from “The First 48″?
Keira’s friends maintain that her experiment was simply ”a science project gone bad” and “that she never meant to hurt anyone.” Even Kiera’s principal acknowledges that “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. Her mother is shocked too.”
Not only that, but Kiera didn’t duck responsibility for her actions. ”She told us everything and was very honest. She didn’t run or try to hide the truth. We had a long conversation with her,” Principal Ron Pritchard explained to Tampa Bay’s 10 News.
And yet, despite these acknowledgments plus a clean school record, Kiera has been expelled, faces adult felony charges, and will have to obtain her diploma via an expulsion program. Such is the reality of school districts and their zero-tolerance policies. The same can be said of our collective ever-increasing paranoia about terrorism.
Sadly, it’s not lost on me and others are outraged that these zero-tolerance policies tend to hurt Black students more than others. Last year, new data from the Department of Education confirmed the disparities.
The New York Times reports:
Although Black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once, and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.
Now Kiera faces the prospects of being another statistic in ongoing inherent bias.
This could’ve been a teachable moment, though. Not for Kiera, but for the useless school board members who create these asinine policies but don’t bother to foster the kind of learning environments that would do more to derail disciplinary problems.
As biologist D.N. Lee writes for Scientific American:
I can’t name a single scientist or engineer, who hadn’t blown up, ripped apart, disassembled something at home or otherwise cause a big ruckus at school all in the name of curiosity, myself included. Science is not clean. It is very messy and it is riddled with mistakes and mishaps.
Kiera’s expulsion all but discourages curiosity and learning overall.
Why not mentor Kiera instead of perpetuating more needless fear mongering? No, Kiera shouldn’t have done this on school grounds, but why hit her with adult felony charges when she’s never had any disciplinary problems prior to this accident? Why treat her the way you would some sort of terrorist with malicious intent?
How a*s backwards can the school board and law enforcement be in this matter?
A curious Black girl should not be condemned for the rest of her life. Period. So if you’d like to vent your frustrations directly, you can contact Bartow High School here, the school distract here, and the Bartow police department here.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick