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Police Called Over 11-Year-Old's Science Project 687

Posted by samzenpus
from the duck-and-cover dept.
garg0yle writes "Police in San Diego were called to investigate an 11-year-old's science project, consisting of 'a motion detector made out of an empty Gatorade bottle and some electronics,' after the vice-principal came to the conclusion that it was a bomb. Charges aren't being laid against the youth, but it's being recommended that he and his family 'get counseling.' Apparently, the student violated school policies — I'm assuming these are policies against having any kind of independent thought?"

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Police Called Over 11-Year-Old's Science Project

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  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @04:49PM (#30793392) Journal
    Let us say it was really bomb. Then the very same media would be all over the school officials, "What? There was this bottle! with wires inside! And electronics! And the clueless vice principal dismissed it as harmless. When is he going to learn that Al Queda is constantly probing our defenses. The terrorists know every trick in the book and know that the best way to smuggle a bomb into a school is to disguise it as a science project. Now the bomb has killed 200 school children. Some heads better roll, or else!". And there is always a steady supply of talking head Monday-morning-quarterbacking security experts lecturing us on how to handle it and how everything is serious and there is a terrorist hiding behind every tree and every garbage can has a bomb in it.

    Yes, in a saner world, where most parties are responsible this would not have been been blown this big. But with the vitiated atmosphere and media constantly looking for flames to fan, the school officials decided, "OK either way they are going to get me. At least let me take the path where I look ridiculous but keep my job."

  • by Upaut (670171) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @04:52PM (#30793426) Homepage Journal
    Tend to show the deranged thoughts of the teachers more than anything else... I remember my project netted me a month of drug counseling, because the application "could" of been used to grow cannabis.... The project was just a kid showing how plants grew differently in different media, hydroponically, with soil, with microorganisms that were advertised to help bind nitrogen in roots and increase growth, and with plant hormones. (All save hydroponically done in the same bag soil, just with the different additives...)

    So my project was removed, and I was instructed not to build any more hydroponic settups in my spare time... Which my parents told me to ignore in my own home, but still.....
  • by FlyingBishop (1293238) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @04:56PM (#30793458)

    s/teachers/administrators/

    Sounds like the kid was showing it off at lunch and the vice principal freaked.

    Reminds me of one time in high school when we were given an assignment by our English teacher. I don't entirely remember the specifics, but we were supposed to take pictures of stuff and make a slideshow that somehow related to the book we were reading.

    So we go over to the theatre department and grab a wooden rifle prop (as in, something made out of a black broomstick with a wooden handle) and end up in an area with half the windows in the school facing us. So the school security guard comes and tells us he could have justified shooting us, and tells us to get back inside.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @04:58PM (#30793476) Journal
    Here is a posting by a soldier in http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/musings/2009/apr/19/airport-security/ [ljworld.com]

    vertigo (Jesse Crittenden) says

    Ironically while flying out of KMCI on my way to Iraq for the Air Force I had to go through the extra security screening. Mind you I'm in full military uniform, desert BDUs, boots, boonie hat, M4 in tow sure enough though I had to take off my boots and all metal objects and get the wand ran over me and extra check through my carry on. Let's ignore the fact that I'm carrying a rifle onboard!

    Common sense sometimes does not apply.

    In the case of the elderly lady I see nothing whatsoever wrong with her getting the same screening as everyone else. Terrorists will use whatever they can to exploit a weakness; that could be a handicapped person, the elderly and children.

    Stop the world, it has gone mad, I want to get off.

  • by negRo_slim (636783) <mils_oRgen@hotmail.com> on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:05PM (#30793538)
    Hey counseling not bad! I got full on expulsion for making a VB program to switch screen resolutions... in a VB class. Sadly I'd do it again, I just don't roll with 640x480x8 !
  • by greg_barton (5551) <greg_barton AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:07PM (#30793558) Homepage Journal

    I thought I couldn't be more surprised by crazy school administrator and police stupidity, but I was wrong.

    Everyone really should read TFA this time.

    From TFA:

    Students were evacuated from Millennial Tech Magnet Middle School...

    ...and...

    Luque said the project was made of an empty half-liter Gatorade bottle with some wires and other electrical components attached. There was no substance inside.

    When police and the Metro Arson Strike Team responded, they also found electrical components in the student's backpack, Luque said. After talking to the student, it was decided about 1 p.m. to evacuate the school as a precaution while the item was examined.

    So, having electronics in your backpack is grounds for evacuating a TECH MAGNET?

    Seriously?

    What happened to the country that put the first man on the moon? We have gone completely insane.

  • by chrysrobyn (106763) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:08PM (#30793564)

    When I was in college, I would periodically bring my electronics homework home from Albany to Phoenix. I would usually work on it the entire time tray tables were allowed. Often I didn't need a textbook, only my engineering paper (overpriced graph paper) and my calculator. I would often make those next to me nervous, but obviously I couldn't harm anyone with paper and a pencil. Well, significantly anyway.

    As I got to the intermediate classes, I would often find myself with schematics, a bag of chips and wires, and a breadboard. Again, plenty of time to just sit there, I would wire up my breadboard with the chips, wires, and my Leatherman. I had more than a few flight attendants strike up a conversation with me long enough to find out that I was going home / to school, was an engineering student, and was working on a finite state machine / simple computer / complicated blinky light thing. "Wanna see? This is so cool! Watch these eight lights blink! I can program it with these switches!" The only time the conversation lasted even a sentence longer was when I was building laser tag. "No, it doesn't actually have any lasers, they just use that name because it sounds cool. It actually works like your remote control to your TV."

    Even at the time, I was fully aware that any technical work done in a public place would draw the skepticism, imagination, and periodically, fear of those around me. Of course, this was in the mid 90's. Times and personal liberties on airplanes in particular are very different. Now, they'd throw a fit if I tried to take my Leatherman near the plane, let alone the chips and bundle of wires running off a 9 volt. I'm much more mature now, and now I see no reason to make people uncomfortable on an airplane in order to stretch their preconceptions.

    The kid and his parents now learned a valuable lesson. Work transparently. Don't hide it in a bottle. When it's complete, more times than not, it shouldn't have a top case. If it needs a case, no external wires should be visible.

  • Cooperative (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dereference (875531) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:20PM (#30793680)

    ...his home also had to be checked...

    Yes, that's the most shocking part of the story to me as well. I'm not sure I'd be very cooperative with the authorities if I were the parents. I think I'd turn it into yet another learning moment, showing the kid how not to bow unquestioningly to authority. I'd have called an attorney, and politely declined the search until a proper warrant was served.

    I'm guessing the parents were horrified to learn of the inconvenience imposed by the morons in charge, and wanted to get it over quickly and prove that their kid was good, so I don't fault them at all for cooperating. But they weren't responsible for the hysteria, and they shouldn't have been pressured to comply. It's as if the authorities allowed the administration to hold the entire school hostage, until this unfortunate family was forced to prove its own innocence. It's quite insane.

  • by v1 (525388) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:26PM (#30793742) Homepage Journal

    The more an expert you are in one area, the lower the odds that you are an expert in an unrelated area.

    School superintendents are (for the most part) some of the most technologically inept people in the building. They're schooled to manage budgets, staff, student problems, parents, PTAs, school boards, etc, not be geeks. In high school in speech class we were broken into groups to compose and film skits. We had to submit our story before we started recording. The finale' of our skit was a bomb failing to be diffused and blowing up something.

    Me being the geek in the group, I was propmaster for the bomb. And I did a pretty good job I think. Looked like a substantial brick of C4 with attached detonator and timer. The wire was the stereotypical brightly colored curly wires, and the timer was displaying like a clock. The skit went off very well, but the prop was misplaced after the skit, though we found it shortly later and thought nothing of it. I only found out some years later where it spent those 10 minutes.

    Attached to a locker beside the main office. A certain student "planted" it, and just as he was walking away, the vice principal walked out of the office. To save from being caught, he shouted "omg a bomb!" and ran. I guess the VP's face turned stone white and he sprinted back into the office. Thinking smartly, the kid spun around and grabbed the prop and returned it to our class room. I'm assuming the VP came back out of the office with the rest of the staff (evacuating?) and found no bomb and was left with some egg on his face, but it could have EASILY gotten the school evacuated now that we look back on it. And this was 19 yrs ago. Just try to imagine the insanity that would have ensued today? I'm sure it would have involved the bomb squad and a small detonation in the parking lot. But I can't blame the VP for not realizing it was a joke, for him everything was stacked pretty well against him. But a gatorade bottle with a photosensor? really?

    Part of the problem here is that an IED can be extremely difficult to identify. Odds are if it looks like a bomb to the layman, it's probably a prop.

    That being said, the last school I worked at, the principal was one of the most tech savvy people in the building short of me, so you can't take anything for granted.

  • School policy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:29PM (#30793764) Homepage
    There you have it: using wires in a science project violates school policy.

    There's a new DVD out called The War on Kids [thewaronkids.com]. The thesis is that schools are prisons and are about surveillance, metal detectors, and control. One of the best parts is where they are receiving a tour through a school, and they ask to see the library, which has a high-security metal door with metal grate over the glass. The principal can't find the key and asks, "did you really need to get in here?"

    Learning is against school policy.

  • by future assassin (639396) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:33PM (#30793812) Homepage
    At one of the local schools when the police came to do anti drug speech and the police officer was talking about cannabis he asked the students (grade 3/4) if any of their parents had an indoor garden inside the house. This was quite the set up.
  • Re:Lesson Learned (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lordholm (649770) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:44PM (#30793948) Homepage
    I did that when I was 8, I ignored the order in the math-book saying that "If you cannot compute the numbers put an x in the answer box", apparently that was someway of saying that "if the result of a - b is negative put an x in the answer box". I completely ignored the order from the math book and wrote down the actual answers to the question, only to find out that this offence resulted in a teacher yelling so high, screaming that I was a bad child because I refused to follow the instructions, that even the pupils in the next class room heard it. Granted, this happened in EU around 20 years ago, but in any case, it seems that times have not changed, only the means in which you suppress smart students.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by infosinger (769408) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @05:52PM (#30794002)

    Next, he'll invent a bomb that doesn't look like a science project.

    My friends and I used to carry our BB guns around the suburban neighborhood. By today's standards we would be considered, if not terrorists, at least in serious needs of counseling and immediate suspension from school.

  • Re:I recommend ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by increment1 (1722312) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @06:02PM (#30794098)

    I agree, there is seemingly a large amount of stupidity involved in the situation.

    The principal not only could have, but SHOULD have interviewed the student to ascertain the risk. However, say the principal is sitting there with the student with a device with wires sticking out of it all over the place. The principal doesn't know enough about electronics to to be sure whether it is a safe device, or is indeed a bomb. Additionally, the principal doesn't trust the student since if it is a bomb the student probably wouldn't admit to it.

    So, given this situation, the principal, as a self optimizing and very self interested individual, decides that there is no advantage or reason for them to take the risk of trusting the student. They error way over on the side of caution since there is no compelling reason for them not to.

    Until there are actual ramifications for raising a false alarm, issues like this are not only likely to continue, but inevitable. If the school or principal was billed for the cost of a false alarm (or just a token percentage of it) then I would be will to bet that you would see the cases of false alarms drop dramatically.

  • by gbutler69 (910166) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @06:22PM (#30794258) Homepage
    ...they send home a "Rules and Policies" that must be signed by the Parents and the Student. I cross-out any ambiguous and ill-defined sections, initial them, then sign the document.
  • Counseling? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Vegeta99 (219501) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {nnyljr}> on Saturday January 16, 2010 @06:29PM (#30794332)

    Counseling for what? The trauma of being accused of being a bomber? I hope that's what it is, and not the fact that the kid has a hobby and was showing it off to kids.

    When I was in middle school, the school got evacuated because of a kid with a CD player in his locker. It was on pause, and the CD was in kinda crooked, making a faint ticking sound. They definitely didn't even bother to ask the kid, because he was in the same class as me (gym, mind you, so we were stuck standing outside in shorts in 30F weather. And no, sonny, walking to your house across the street is NOT okay), and got hauled off by the cops.

    In the same middle school, I pretty much was all the teachers' techie. As a result, I had the admin password to all the classroom computers. My last year there I was suspended for knowing the password (even though the teachers tried to defend me).

    Really think I'll be homeschooling my own children. Had I been this kid's dad, I'd have popped that vice principal square in the teeth.

  • Re:I recommend ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by coolgeek (140561) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @06:53PM (#30794526) Homepage

    The school's statement makes no sense either. The school's policies are published here [mtechmiddle.org] I don't see where he ran afoul of them.

  • US Schools (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phorm (591458) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @06:58PM (#30794570) Journal

    Has anyone heard of this sort of thing commonly occurring outside of US schools?
    I don't want to sound like a self-righteous Canadian, but I've worked in three school districts and I really don't see that kind of fear-of-technology/intelligence happening here. I do see teachers that aren't great with technology, but I haven't met anyone that is outright paranoid like those in these type of stories (which seem to be rather frequent over the last few years).

    So does anyone in Canada/Europe/Australia/Asia/etc have similar stories, or is there something really, really weird with the US Education system?

  • Don't Tread On Me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 16, 2010 @07:25PM (#30794778)

    When I was at High School I was caught by one of the deans making black powder in a science lab. Instead of taking the opportunity to turn the incident in to a lesson in basic safety or chemistry this teacher went nuts. I remember the science teacher trying to step in and do the right thing. I was threatened with expulsion. My parents were called. I clearly remember him calling me amongst various things , 'A clear threat to society'. What I was actually interested in at the time was model rocketry not bomb making. But like any half smart 13 year old I was capable of both. I figured since had labeled me in his tiny mind as a threat the onus was on me to deliver his nightmare. The very next day this same teacher found under his chair in the teachers staff room exactly what he was afraid of. A plastic lunch box containing two steel pipes a stereo counter and some simple electronics to drive it all. It looked for all the world on first inspection like every bomb MacGyver has ever tried to diffuse. Until you looked closer and saw that the metal tubes were packed with tissue. I was told later that the teacher actually wet himself in the process of trying to diffuse it like the big hero that he was. In those days where I lived we did not have any special response unit for these things. He called the fire department. The whole school was ordered to line up outside on a series of tennis courts. In a strange way rather than confirming that he was right about me the incident merely confirmed that he was a complete idiot. I remember one of the Fireman walking past holding the lunch box and laughing. Anyway the point I was going to make was that if your going to label bright intelligent children as threats when they are merely exploring the world and not intent on hurting anyone then fully expect them to confirm your worst fears 10 times over and then some. I might also ad that this experience was the start for me of a long war of hatred with all forms of authority. Thankfully it was a war I won!

  • by butlerm (3112) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @08:17PM (#30795066)

    Hardly. The public school system is not a free market, where for more money you can attract higher levels of talent (and sanity). Paying more means paying the same people higher salaries, depending not on demonstrated ability, but rather the number of years they have been in the system. That is what the union system is all about - not talent, but rather seniority. The whole idea is that teachers (or assembly line workers or whoever) are interchangeable cogs in a wheel, not real individuals with different talents and abilities deserving of individual treatment.

    If we want the school system to improve, we should quit running it like the drivers license division (and vice versa).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 16, 2010 @09:53PM (#30795566)

    Most of the teachers probably rolled their eyes at the moron. The 'upper' staff is usually buddies of someone who knows someone. You do not get that job by actually by being good at it. Those upper jobs are a 'scratch my back' sort of cushy job. Rich donating old lady to supper of the schools... "Hey can you give my nephew a good job he isnt too good at anything" sort of job...

    Most politics in the united states works this way. It is rarely about doing the right thing and about what lobbyist is screaming the loudest at the moment and who paid the most in campaign contributions.

    To give you an idea how this works my uncle who owed a good sum of money to the "tax guys" told me this little gem "get in trouble with the IRS and you can make the problem go away with a 5k 'campaign' contribution to your local congress critter". His 'tax problem' went away. Its not a 'bribe' per se but it sure looks like one to me. You would be shocked to see how often this happens. Especially on the state level.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 16, 2010 @10:43PM (#30795830)

    Back in early high school (2002 maybe?) I almost got suspended for something similar. I had built some sort of analog-based electronic musical instrument on a breadboard for a class.

    During the early stages of construction I put a small electrolytic cap on backwards. A few minutes after hooking everything up the capacitor blew with a loud snap. They thought I had built a bomb and questioned if I had used gunpowder and explosives and all kinds of crap. In the end nothing came of it, but I spent a few days in the principal's office and for after-school counseling (which I remember more as after-school interrogation to get me to say I had used gunpowder).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:00AM (#30796116)

    He's not the only one. It happened to me while I was wearing a flight suit and carrying the issue beretta. Never mind the knife in my pocket (my letter said I was authorized to carry the sidearm and survival knife), they flipped about a metal paperclip in my medical records. I almost cried.

  • Re:I recommend ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradis@p ... t ['ay.' in gap]> on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:14AM (#30796158) Homepage Journal
    Okay, so what policies did the student violate?
  • Which policy? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Capt.Albatross (1301561) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:47AM (#30796280)

    They may think this is their justification: "Staff, parents, and students agree that we should follow guidelines for Socially Responsible Behavior during the school day and at all school sponsored events.Socially Responsible Behavior includes, but is not limited to..." (my italics) -- i.e. 'we can make up the rules after the event'. The speciousness of a supposed policy document containing this sort of language should be obvious to reasonable people, but I cannot say what position the law would take on it.

    The official statements appear to be trying to give the impression that the student was at fault, without actually saying, much less doing, anything that would get their sorry asses sued.

  • by teg (97890) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:04AM (#30798364) Homepage

    Hardly. The public school system is not a free market, where for more money you can attract higher levels of talent (and sanity). Paying more means paying the same people higher salaries, depending not on demonstrated ability, but rather the number of years they have been in the system.

    If the salary level in the schools is lowered to minimum wage, there wouldn't be any qualified teachers left. If you agree on that, we agree that the salary level does indeed have an effect. Now, I agree that significantly increasing salary wouldn't have as an immediate effect as decreasing it - there is a significant lag when improving conditions. However, increased pay would retain many of the good teachers who move away from teaching, and make teaching a more attractive career for students looking at different career paths. Thus, the average would slowly improve.

    Another problem is, what is a good teacher? A teacher in the best areas of Silicon Valley has a very different set of pupils and parents than a teacher in a poor inner city district somewhere - I expect the results on standardized tests would be very different, even if the latter teacher knew his subjects better and was better at motivating and coaching. I even expect that the skill sets needed would be very different.

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