On May 1, Kiera Wilmot, a Florida high school student, was arrested for mixing toilet bowl cleaner with tin foil, causing a small, harmless explosion. Though she had a spotless school record, she was expelled and charged with a felony as an adult -- a harsh penalty widely ascribed to institutional racism (Wilmot is black). On May 16, thanks to Wilmot's bravery, a crowdfunded project by former NASA engineer Homer Hickam, and the ACLU, the charges against Wilmot were dropped and Wilmot and her twin sister were awarded a full bursary to the Advanced Space Academy program at the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala..
Now, Wilmot has written a must-read editorial for the ACLU on her experience with zero-tolerance, detailing the awful treatment she received and the thoughtless way in which the gears of the a discipline-obsessed educational system grind up its own students:
The principal and dean of discipline came over and asked me to tell them what happened. I was kind of scared, but I thought they'd understand it was an accident. Before that, I've never gotten in trouble this year other than a dress code violation because my skirt was two inches too short. I told him it was my science experiment. In my third period class I was called up to discipline. I wrote a statement to the dean of discipline explaining what had happened. Afterward I was told to sit on the resource officer's office. They told me I made a bomb on school property, and police possibly have the right to arrest me. I didn't know what they classified as a bomb. I was worried I accidently made a bomb. I was really hurt and scared. I was crying.
They didn't read me any rights. They arrested me after sitting in the office for a couple minutes. They handcuffed me. It cut my wrist, and really hurt sitting on my hands behind my back.
They took me to a juvenile assessment center. I was sitting in this room with no clock so it felt like years of me sitting there. When my mom came, she didn't say anything. She just had this really disappointed look, and told me I lost privileges. But she's really been supportive of me. I don't know what would have happened if I didn't have my mom. I would have dug a hole and sat there for the rest of my life.
I don't think police should have been involved because I'm a good student for one. And two, it was a big deal, but it wasn't like people were hurt and the school was in shatters. I maybe should have gotten 10 days suspension or a work detail where on Saturday you wake up early and pick up trash around the school.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.