By now, you’ve probably heard 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot’s name. The story of a girl who was relatively unknown two weeks ago has gone viral. If you haven’t heard the story of her mixing toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil behind her high school’s cafeteria in an “experiment” that lead to her arrest and expulsion, read up with this article from the Huffington Post
The principal has said he doesn’t believe there was any malice and that Kiera was honest and forthcoming with them. The school staff seems to believe that this really was just curiosity executed with pure judgement. Sure, anytime you’re messing with chemicals that can detonate, there is a risk for harm. And if she really is interested in science, it’s important for her to understand how to safely set up an experiment. But, as folks on Twitter have shared in their stories tagged #KieraWilmot, sometimes our curiosity gets the better of us. If there’s to be consequences for her misjudgement, why not make them something beneficial that fits the situation and serves as a teaching experience? Like a report or presentation on lab safety and properly setting up an experiment? Or tutoring students struggling in science? What’s going on here?
Has Zero Tolerance gone too far? Would Kiera have been expelled and arrested if she were white? What about if she hadn’t been such a good student?
Zero Tolerance is meant to be executed as-is – both in the hopes of ensuring the targeted behavior stops and to prevent discrimination (racial, behavioral record, gender, etc) from factoring into the punishment. Is it doing its job though? Is Zero Tolerance really right for our school or society? Supposedly, everyone gets the same punishment under certain circumstances. If that is the case, then we have over-the-top consequences that are going to happen, like the incidents in the Christina School District or the recent case of the gun-shaped Pop Tart.
I believe that Zero Tolerance policies can still be subject to discrimination – or even encourage it – by giving folks with such an inclination a firmer ground to stand on. It’s very possible to have one student and say “I’m just following proceedure” while meting out the maximum sentence, and somehow fail to report another similar incident. This is a territory I’m still exploring, though. While the focus isn’t on Zero Tolerance abuses per se, fellow WordPress Blogger Davey D wrote an interesting assessment of the Kiera Wilmot situation compared with other cases involving uneven punishment of African-Americans. Give it a read!
All I can say is that her actions and the consequences don’t line up. And I hope the media attention, Twitter support, and petitioning result in change, both in Kiera Wilmot’s case and throughout the US school system. We need to appoint administrators that we trust – or come up with an even system – and give those with the responsibility the tools and leeway to make those decisions. Something’s got to change.
What are your thoughts?