Florida honor student arrested, expelled for science project

Bartow High School expelled a student for a science fair project gone wrong. (Source: Ebyabe/Wikimedia Commons)
Bartow High School expelled a student for a science fair project gone wrong. (Source: Ebyabe/Wikimedia Commons)

BARTOW, FL (RNN) - A high school student with clean conduct record was arrested on felony charges and expelled from school after conducting what she called "a science fair experiment."

The incident occurred on April 22 when 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot decided to conduct the experiment on the grounds of Bartow High School.

Wilmot combined household cleaner and aluminum foil in an eight ounce water bottle.

The chemical reaction created a pop that sounds like a firecracker and smoke. Wilmot was not injured and neither was any other student.

"Wilmot advised she was told by a friend how to make the device," said the incident report. "Wilmot advised she did not know what would happen when she mixed the ingredients. She said she did know it would make smoke."

The school's assistant principal of discipline, Dan Durham, was also outside and saw the incident and addressed Wilmot, who was honest about the details of the project.

"She made a bad choice," said Durham told WTSP. "Honestly, I don't think she meant to ever hurt anyone. She wanted to see what would happen and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked, too."

Following the incident, her science teacher was asked if they sanctioned the project. The teacher said no. The responding officer, upon the suggestion of Florida Assistant State attorney Tammy Glotfelty, arrested Wilmot, charging her with possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school sponsored event or on school property and possessing any destructive devices. Both counts are felonies and she will be tried as an adult.

Wilmot has also been expelled from school and will complete the rest of her high school education in an expulsion program. The Polk County, FL school district said the incident was in direct violation of its conduct code and her expulsion will not be overturned. Wilmot will be able to challenge her expulsion.

"Unfortunately, what she did falls into our code of conduct," Polk County, FL district spokeswoman Leah Lauderdale told the Miami Times. "It's grounds for immediate expulsion."

Durham said she is a good kid who has never had to be disciplined.

"She has never been in trouble before. Ever," Durham said.

The story has garnered buzz across social media - one side defending the student and the other defending the school system for expelling her.

A petition on causes.com called for all charges against Wilmot to be dropped to for her to be reinstated to the school "without penalty." As of Friday, it had been signed by almost 1,000 people.

The science publication The Scientific American addressed Wilmot's case in an article entitled, How to repel kids from science: by shackling curiosity in cuffs.

Several commenters also posted to a Facebook page about the school calling for the expulsion to be overturned. It is not clear whether it is the school's official Facebook page.

"Like a scarlet letter 'F' tattooed to her forehead, she may be forever branded a felon. And for what? A mistake in judgment? Curiosity run amok? Was there intent to do harm, to inflict pain or instill fear and terror? No," one post read.

The incident happened one week after the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured more than 200.

Polk County Schools released a statement saying "Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School [April 22] 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," the statement said. "We urge 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."

Friends of Wilmot said to WTSP that she has a twin sister who is still attending the school. The Wilmot family has not made a statement regarding the case.

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