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Published: Monday, 5/6/2013


Zero sense

Last month, Kiera Wilmot, a smart high school student in Florida, did something dumb: The 16-year-old, who had a clean behavior record, wanted to see what would happen if she mixed some common household chemicals in a water bottle at school before classes started.

The small explosion that resulted caused the bottle top to pop off and created a puff of smoke. No one was hurt, and there was no property damage.

The most incendiary reaction was that of school officials. Ms. Wilmot was taken into custody by school security officers and charged with possession of a weapon and “discharging a destructive device.”

She was taken to a juvenile center and will be tried as an adult. She was expelled and will have to complete her education through a special program.

School officials, who evidently can’t tell the difference between a curious teenager and a member of al-Qaeda, said her act was a “serious breach of conduct” that requires punishment if the district is to “maintain a safe and orderly learning environment.”

Ms. Wilmot made a reckless mistake that deserves punishment. But the harsh consequences inflicted by the school district have caused her saga to go viral, with blog posts and tweets from scientists and science teachers in her defense.

The student’s punishment is out of proportion to her offense. Her principal conceded she didn’t act maliciously. Her curiosity got in the way of her caution, but no harm was done. The real weapon of destruction here is a school administration mind-set that operates with no discretion.

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