Charging teen with felony after science experiment mishap contributes to school-to-prison pipeline

I guess the folks in Florida are more than serious about making sure it’s precisely following the school-to-prison protocol. Kiera Wilmont, a 16-year-old student at Bartow High School in Florida, has charged with a felony and expelled from school after a science experiment she did resulted in an 8-ounce bottle cap to pop and produce smoke.

From the Miami New Times Blog:

After the explosion Wilmot was taken into custody by a school resources officer and charged with possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device. She will be tried as an adult.

She was then taken to a juvenile assessment center. She was also expelled from school and will be forced to complete her diploma through an expulsion program.

The Polk County School District’s statement noted the experiment was a “serious breach of conduct.”

“Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules. We urge our parents to join us in conveying the message that there are consequences to actions. We will not compromise the safety and security of our students and staff.”

The district says the student’s violation of its code require her to be expelled from school. I should note Wilmot’s attorney said she was conducting the experiment in class and her teacher wasn’t aware of it, according to The Ledger.

According to Bartow police reports, Wilmot told authorities a friend had told her how to make the device. She said she brought the materials from home, and she didn’t know what would happen when they were mixed together.

“Wilmot advised she thought it would just cause some smoke,” the report states.

Pritchard said about half a dozen students were in the area, but no one was hurt and there was no damage to school property.

So, basically the district is treating Wilmot like she’s a little terrorist seeking to cause destruction on school grounds. What we also have at play are the school’s zero tolerance policies that make criminals out of students who do dumb things. And as we all know, these zero-tolerance policies have an unusually higher impact on minority, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students.

What’s distressing about this story is this incident will no doubt transform Wilmot, who by all accounts is an excellent student with no disciplinary problems, into yet another statistic who will have a criminal record if a grand jury returns an indictment. We all know these zero tolerance policies contribute to the criminalization of students and often local police departments are encouraged by school districts to crack down on the brown and black bodies they label as delinquents.

I would be lying if I said Wilmot’s race was not a contributing factor in police charging her with a felony, which was so eloquently argued at Gradient Lair. Despite the fact no one was hurt and the “explosion” caused no damage, police and school district officials feel it’s imperative to make an example out of Wilmot’s actions.

It’s clear that these school and law enforcement officials could care less about the safety and security of the school and even the principal said the student complied with the district after the mishap occurred. It’s clear that Wilmot’s case speaks to the policies of law enforcement agencies and school districts that funnel black and brown bodies into the ever-growing Prison Industrial Complex.

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