Friday, May 3, 2013

The Absurdity of Zero Tolerance

Officials here in Florida have decided once again to demonstrate just how absurd it can be to enforce a principle where it really doesn't apply.

Kiera Wilmot, a student in good standing, decided to mix some "chemicals" in a soda bottle, which resulted in an explosion. No word on exactly what got mixed, but I have to imagine it is something pretty easily available to a student. There are a lot of choices here, from Mentos and soda to vinegar and baking soda. (Googling "How to make a soda bottle bomb" this morning got me 2,060,000 hits.)

Please, please, do not try this at home! As Kiera discovered, the resulting explosion is quite a bit stronger than you think it is going to be. People get injured fiddling with these.

This was stupid and dangerous, and deserved a response. I'm thinking a suspension, calls to the parents, maybe a misdemeanor rap with some community service in an extreme case with a repeat offender. But Florida firmly believes that nothing succeeds like excess.

Polk County officials have expelled the girl and charged her with a felony firearms charge. They're going to ruin this girl's life for a stupid teenager trick inspired by approximately 2 million online videos (by actual count).

Kelly Welch, a criminal justice professor from Villanova University, describes this action as:

just another example of schools handling normal acts of juvenile misbehavior with extraordinarily harsh measures that more closely resemble the exclusion inherent to criminal justice rather than restorative discipline in school.

A petition calling for charges to be dropped has already received 29,000 signatures.

There are unfortunately a lot of stories about children being caught between inflexible school officials and police departments and the reality of childhood. You may remember that a Pennsylvania kindergartner was threatened with a terrorist threats charge for telling a classmate that she was going to shoot her with her Hello Kitty bubble gun. (I don't think there is any truth to rumors that al Qaeda is stocking up on pink plastic bubble guns.)

I'd have to say that the real terrorists here are school officials who appear to forgotten that they are dealing with children.