The Widdershins

Archive for May 9th, 2013

Good Thursday, Widdershins.

Today, I’d like to discuss another Florida phenom, the “Zero Tolerance Policy”.  No, by that I do not mean shady businessmen that take your money, then close up shop leaving themselves immune from suit. That’s considered “business as usual”.   I do not mean politicians, either.  We tolerate amazing things in the political arena, usually shining on whatever  shenanigans our elected officials have pulled off until the time that they have become a national laughingstock.

So, then for what exactly do Floridians have “zero tolerance”?   Apparently, mostly  for children.  Remember when it was revealed that Trayvon Martin had a “history”?  One of the biggies there was a school suspension for possession of drug paraphernalia.  I recall reading that he had some cigarette papers in his locker.  Interesting, but not exactly a key of  pot interesting.  Recently we had a five-year old child sent home from school.  His offense?   Sporting a Mohawk haircut that his parents had authorized.    His teacher insisted that the other children found it too distracting, and he was suspended until he had a new haircut.

Our latest foray into the Land of Zero Tolerance involves a sixteen-year old named Kiera Wilmot, of Bartow, Florida.  Kiera was expelled from school for bomb-making activities.  It seems as though Kiera was searching for a science fair project, and one of her friends suggested that she try mixing toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil.  Kiera went outside near the school gazebo, tried it out and a small explosion occurred.  An assistant principal heard the explosion and raced outside to ask what had just happened.  Kiera told him what she had done, and he immediately expelled her for “being in possession of an explosive device”, an offense for which the school might reasonably have Zero Tolerance, had that been what she actually did.

Science is messy, and anyone who has ever taken any sort of science class would have to agree.  Biology involves some rather nasty dissections, chemical experiments have gone “boom”, turned funky colors, and cleared rooms full  of folks with noxious gasses.    Every single day, I read something that tells me to be alarmed that our students are way behind in science and math – it is now almost an educational mantra.  Our governor has attempted to defund collegiate programs not tied to science and math.  Everything is science and math – except Zero Tolerance, of course.

Kiera has also been arrested and charged with a felony.  The Miami New Times RipTide blog and Slate have written posts about this matter, and I offer you this from Slate:

Playing with chemistry on a small scale, particularly with reactions that “snap, crackle and pop,” also fosters a sense of respect for the unexpected results that can happen when you mix things. Adults who have such formative experiences as kids might be less likely to contribute to the hundreds of non-drug related domestic chemical incidents each year. Note: Mixing bleach with almost anything is a bad idea. In a test tube it might send you scrambling for fresh air, in bucket quantities, it can kill you.

I don’t envy the school board or the judge who will have to sort out Kiera Wilmot’s motivations and rule on this case. Given her statement to police and her choice of location—not the center of the school but the grassy area in the back—it feels to me more like a case of out of control curiosity. Was it science done in the wrong place at the wrong time or malevolence? If they find it was the former, I hope that in spite of its zero tolerance policy, the Polk County school board will look at this incident in the context of Wilmot’s whole record. Then they might ask themselves if two of the junior varsity baseball players with similar records throwing a ball around outside school in the morning hit a window (and didn’t even break it), would they be expelled? Baseballs can be used as a weapon. Would they be charged with a felony? Perhaps the authorities should apply the same standards to Kiera Wilmot.

There is nothing I can say to top that, other than to leave you with this final thought:  In no way should “Zero Tolerance” mean “Zero Thought Process”.  This is an open thread.

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