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Curiosity Rewarded: Florida Teen Heading to Space Camp, Not Jail 241

Posted by timothy
from the this-time-my-pretty dept.
Kiera Wilmot, the Florida high school student who was expelled from her school after an unauthorized science experiment was misperceived as a weapon (at least for purposes of arrest and charging), won't be going to jail. She will, though, be going to Space Camp, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign started by author and former NASA engineer Homer Hickham. All charges against her have been dropped.
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Curiosity Rewarded: Florida Teen Heading to Space Camp, Not Jail

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:15AM (#43803957)

    It scares me shitless that my kindergartner could be kicked out of school for folding his hands and saying bang in this insane and litigious age.

    • by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:19AM (#43803989)

      Intelligence? I think you mean curiosity. Let's be honest. If she had thought it through a little bit more, this "experiment" wouldn't have landed her in hot water. Curiosity is still a very good thing, though.

      • by Peter Simpson (112887) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:28AM (#43804117)
        " If she had thought it through a little bit more, this "experiment" wouldn't have landed her in hot water."

        IIRC, she cleared it with her teacher? Used a small amount of chemicals in an open area. That sounds pretty safe, cautious and intelligent to me. Nobody got hurt, but because the reaction was exothermic and dramatic, one observer felt someone *could* have gotten hurt. So, instead of reacting sensibly, they went off the deep end and called the police. The person lacking judgement and intelligence wa the school administrator, not the young lady.
        • by Baloroth (2370816) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:38AM (#43804233)

          No, the teacher did not know about the experiment. The girl mixed the chemicals on the advice of "a friend." The administration overreacted, but she probably did deserve some form of punishment. Mixing chemicals in closed containers without knowing exactly what they do (she said she thought it would just produce some smoke), and without supervision, on school property? Extremely bad idea.

          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            by tompaulco (629533)
            Mixing chemicals in closed containers without knowing exactly what they do (she said she thought it would just produce some smoke), and without supervision, on school property? Extremely bad idea.
            You're right, an extremely bad idea. Perhaps schools should supply a person that could be charged with supervising classes.
          • I was wrong on clearing it with the teacher. She should have done that.
            But, she gets points for "small amount" (less than 8 oz) and "open area".
            And how is a reaction that pops the top off a plastic bottle in any way a "bomb" or "destructive device"? (which was how she was charged)
            Bad choice of location and didn't cover her ass with the teacher, but that's all I see wrong here. We had a kid in my class at school who used to mix up far worse in the chem lab, and as far as I know, he never suffered fo
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by DocMAME (933222)
              Never seen a Works bomb on YouTube, huh? Take a look and see how destructive one can be... it is a heated chemical reaction that melts the bottle as it attempts to expand and contain it prior to exploding and spraying caustic toilet bowl cleaner all about...
          • by Synerg1y (2169962)

            Right... because kids think exactly like you do and premeditate all their actions. I won't even go as far as to say it was stupid on her part, she simply didn't know, so it was ignorant.

          • by serialband (447336) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:26PM (#43804817)

            No, the teacher did not know about the experiment. The girl mixed the chemicals on the advice of "a friend." The administration overreacted, but she probably did deserve some form of punishment. Mixing chemicals in closed containers without knowing exactly what they do (she said she thought it would just produce some smoke), and without supervision, on school property? Extremely bad idea.

            The only punishment she deserved was a stern talking to. She was punished plenty by the big bang that ensued and probably scared her out of her wits. Now, she gets a reward to go to space camp. That's not quite an appropriate message either.

            • by AuMatar (183847)

              I think a detention for a day for stealing the supplies and not seeking supervision would have been appropriate. Criminal charges and expulsion definitely not. I like the other guy's idea of having her calculate the amount of heat generated and pressure built up by the reaction to see how dangerous it could have been if she had scaled up as part of her detention.

            • by Hatta (162192)

              The only punishment she deserved was a stern talking to.

              And an assigned essay in which she explains exactly what happened in that reaction vessel.

              Now, she gets a reward to go to space camp. That's not quite an appropriate message either.

              Rewarding curiosity is exactly the kind of message we want to send.

          • Yes, she deserved a "punishment". That punishment should have taken the form of a mild scolding. "Honey, we probably should have stressed that you don't mix chemicals until you're sure what to expect from them! Next time, ask BEFORE you mix the stuff up!" And, that should have been the end of it.

            Well, the end of it, except for some ice cream. No high school experiment is complete until the ice cream has been consumed.

            • by Obfuscant (592200)

              "Honey, we probably should have stressed that you don't mix chemicals until you're sure what to expect from them!

              That statement is the school taking responsibility for unauthorized and unexpected experiments undertaken by any student. It wasn't the school's fault that they didn't tell her explicitly not to mix random things together to see what happens.

              Next time, ask BEFORE you mix the stuff up!"

              And that statement would be the school accepting responsibility for whatever experiments the student comes up with. "Hey, you told my child it was ok to mix X and Y and now she's lost a finger or two and the house has serious damage ... I'm suing...".

          • Yes but not such a bad idea that we should be discussing it. This should have died at the local level.
        • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:03PM (#43804523)
          It's more complicated than that

          "Unfortunately, what she did falls into our code of conduct," Leah Lauderdale, a spokeswoman for the district, tells Riptide. "It's grounds for immediate expulsion."

          More specifically, Wilmot's mini-explosion -- which came after she mixed "common household chemicals" in a plastic bottle -- violates Section 7.05 of the school's conduct code, Lauderdale says, which mandates expulsion for any "student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device... while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity... unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor."

          ...Wilmot's principal acknowledges that the 16-year-old wasn't trying to hurt anyone and simply made a "bad choice," the school's rules said she had to be expelled.

          ...The spokeswoman says the school district stands by its rules. "We urge our parents to convey to their kids that there are consequences to their actions," she says.

          source [miaminewtimes.com] They undoubtedly maintained that since a teacher wasn't present at the time, that violated the letter of the law and, obviously, "NO EXCEPTIONS TO RULES EVER" is the most important message schools can teach to kids. (sarcasm)

          There's also obviously a bit of "I'm just following orders, it's not me who is doing this clearly stupid and unethical thing even though I am the actual one expelling you."

          I think there are two big roots to the problem. The first is zero tolerance policies. Schools love them deep down because it makes fretful parents think their children are safer, and also probably dealing with kids all day makes you really want to clamp down hard with rules for your own sanity. And obviously in this case, the school was more interested in showing that students are not going to be blown up by science-loving terrorist children than they were in the student. Even if the schools didn't want zero tolerance, all the other idiots involved want them, legislators and parents.

          The second is personal liability. No one wants to stand up and say "Fuck that rule, it's a stupid fucking rule" and then potentially lose their job. I have no idea how likely that would have been in this case. Evidently, no one even wanted to say "She DID have permission, so she's not really violating the rules." Maybe the teacher who gave her permission chickened out and said "Well, I didn't give her permission to do THAT, so please don't fire me.

          TLDR: it would be nice if someone had the power to use their own judgement and intelligence here, but there are plenty of mechanisms in place to ensure that can't happen. Preventing this type of idiotic heavy-handed action will require bigger changes than one administrator growing a brain and/or balls.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Expulsion was over the top, but there's a reason why there's a requirement that a professional be there supervising, it dramatically decreases the likelihood of there being any mistakes or injuries. Sure, it still might happen, but having a chemist there would be prudent.

            That's not to say that you can't have some fun, I remember my high school chemistry teacher light soap bubbles filled with methane on fire in class. There were even scorch marks on the ceiling to prove it.

            • by Dahamma (304068)

              My middle school science teacher had a great time dropping tiny chunks of elemental sodium in water in class as part of a chemistry lesson. Unfortunately that led to a couple of curious students later dropping a much-too-large piece of it in the toilet in the boy's room...

              In the end the students were given detentions for taking the sodium without asking, and I don't think anything happened to the teacher (who was a great teacher in general). In today's absurd educational environment the teacher probably w

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by schlick (73861)

            which mandates expulsion for any "student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device... while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity... unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor

            Technically, (and theses people seem to love technicalities), party poppers, snappers, and other harmless things are grounds for expulsion... And people think that parents who home-school their children are the crazy ones.

          • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:59PM (#43805225)

            "NO EXCEPTIONS TO RULES EVER" is the most important message schools can teach to kids.

            That is actually the rule that public schools were set up to teach kids. That the kids who go to public schools are to follow the rules and do what their "betters" tell them to do. Now the children of those "betters" go to private schools and receive different lessons.

          • by drerwk (695572)

            It's more complicated than that

            "Unfortunately, what she did falls into our code of conduct," Leah Lauderdale, a spokeswoman for the district, tells Riptide. "It's grounds for immediate expulsion." More specifically, Wilmot's mini-explosion -- which came after she mixed "common household chemicals" in a plastic bottle -- violates Section 7.05 of the school's conduct code, Lauderdale says, which mandates expulsion for any "student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device... while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity... unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor." ...Wilmot's principal ack

            http://www.fedcoplaw.com/html/Federal%20Explosives%20and%20Bombing%20Laws.dwt.htm [fedcoplaw.com]
            Not obvious to me that what she had qualifies as either a bomb or explosive.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            > "NO EXCEPTIONS TO RULES EVER" is the most important message schools can teach to kids.

            NO EXCEPTIONS TO RULES EVER is to protect the school and it's administrators, not kids.

            When admins dont have to make judgement calls, they cant be sued for bad judgement. Any lawsuits will be met in court with "this is our standard policy." It will stop all kinds of legal actions.

            • by xenobyte (446878)

              Most schools have strict rules against bullying, and yet it occurs in almost every school daily. In many places it is not only tolerated but actually encouraged as 'motivation' or 'school spirit' when the jocks gets a free pass in tormenting geeks or other outcasts. This directly caused the Columbine school shooting and despite the lessons learned nothing changed.

              On Columbine they denied all accusations of school supported bullying, but ended up having to admit the existence of a cruel system where both joc

          • by steelfood (895457)

            I hope you realize that of the two roots you listed, one is a direct result of the other.

        • by ArhcAngel (247594)
          My HS physical science teacher would pull out a cylinder of pure Sodium every year and take his classes outside. There he had a 5 gallon bucket of water and a 2x4 with a string tied to it. He'd cut off a slice of the sodium and place it atop the 2x4 which sat atop the 5 gallon bucket. He'd then move everybody a safe distance and drop the sodium into the water by pulling the string. BAM! [youtu.be] He'd probably get arrested for doing that today...if not he'd definitely get hauled in for igniting the magnesium [youtu.be] inside t
          • by Slugster (635830)
            The teacher doing a possibly-hazardous demonstration with reasonable safety precautions, and a student doing it without permission are two rather different things.

            IMO it wasn't that severe of an act, but what she did was make a Drano-bomb. (for some reason the kids are using toilet cleaner these days, but anyway) It's not a science experiment any more than making a Molotov cocktail would be. The stories that called it a 'science experiment' were also the ones calling for leniency on her behalf.

            Like th
          • by nbauman (624611)

            This is the kind of thing that chemistry books in the 1950s and 1960s encouraged kids to do.

            One of the 19th century classics was Faraday's Chemical History of a Candle, which showed you how to make a paint can blow its top with lycopodium powder. (Still a great book for kids, now open source.) My chemistry teacher used that one in class. There was one British popular science lecturer who said that an indoor explosion is a good way to get peoples' attention.

            The big difference is that back then, making bombs

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Let's be honest. If she had thought it through a little bit more, this "experiment" wouldn't have landed her in hot water.

        I defy you to tell us honestly that you would have "thought it through a little bit more" when you were her age.

        It's pretty clear by your statement that you have no idea what children are actually like, nor have any of your own.

        • by tnk1 (899206) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:55PM (#43805193)

          Having actually done something like this, at approximately her age, I did think about it. Indeed, even back before there were terrorists behind every tree, I realized that even though I thought creating a chemical reaction would not be a big deal, I knew that there is no way I'd do that on school grounds. So I did my experiments out in a field, nowhere near school property.

          I understand that she thought that it wouldn't explode, but did she really think that running that kind of reaction on school grounds was a good idea? Perhaps she hadn't spent enough time blowing things up as a kid to understand that you don't want to mix potentially explodey things in public.

          And I am not just talking about school grounds = public space. Kids her age should be well aware that schools are a zone where even minor infractions can generate huge overreactions from administrators, more so than even if she did it on some sidewalk. Schools are about as close as we have to a rights-free location, outside of prisons and the military.

      • So "Intelligence" means don't take risk? Do only what is permitted?
      • Yeah, but killing with a BB gun is fine there.

    • by Ferzerp (83619)

      Fear motivates the world (or at least the US) these days.

      The media peddles it, the two political parties (I was tempted to say major, but they have a lock on it) *both* peddle it to great effect. They each have their own brand, but they're both villainous in their exploitation of it.

      The public has bought in to it, and individuals and groups lacking in scruples have noticed that it can be used to rally support.

      • by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:58AM (#43804471)

        Fear is our biggest problem right now.

        Why aren't we going to the Gym to get in shape? Fear of going into a gym out of shape and being judged by others. (I will go to the Gym after I lose 20 lbs)
        Why aren't we starting our own businesses but dealing with the lower reward working for a company? Fear that our ideas will get sued by patent trools or other companies. Or if the case your product did fail in some way you are responsible for a problem that is much bigger than you.
        Why are Religious Fundamentalists going nuts about evolution and gay rights? They are afraid these changes will cause our culture to reject religion and have society force them to be atheist.
        Why are businesses not expanding? They are afraid that new regulations will make it impossible for them to work. ...
        Our culture has been poisoned with fear. But there isn't anything really about the facts to be afraid of, but because off all the fear we are paralyzed into doing the best thing for ourselves and our culture.

        Politically is isn't about right vs left. It is about most of our leaders are or were Lawyers, They think in terms of a Lawyers, our leaders are not made up of peers of different skills. Except for adding a new law, perhaps we can change a process. Instead of trying a way to prosecute people who do things that are negative culturally lets try ways that will change their behaviors proactively, as well rehabilitate post incident.

        For example I got into a car accident. I rear ended a car, however I did help prevent the car behind me from rear ending me, and the car in front of me got very little damage, while my car got the brunt of it. I never got in such an accident before. However the police at the scene figure they had to give me a ticket because in my state I am legally responsible. Except for the fact that I am now without my favorite car and have to pay a good insurance deductible, they felt like to rub some salt into my wound by adding a $100 ticket. The system is setup to try to discourage people from committing the crimes, they figure if you get punished for it you will learn your lesson. Except for slightly modifying the roads so these things wouldn't happen, or just realizing the person is already in enough pain. But our leaders are lawyers, every law that is broken and caught needs a punishment. So people will live in fear of breaking the laws.

        • by Synerg1y (2169962)

          Part of the problem is that most laws don't take morality into effect. Sure, some laws have a min and max punishment to help judge the severity, but there's no real system to say does this law apply or not in this situation. This starts at the highest levels of government (where they just buy their way out of any law), and trickles down to your motorcycle cop, who's more interested in making his/her quota then actually helping people and serving justice.

          To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how to fix i

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      you forgot the step where they call the police to come for your little terrorist-in-training. Because we that as kids that played cops'n'robbers or soldiers or cowboys'n'injuns grew up to be violent mass murderers....oh wait we didn't

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      Let me present another viewpoint here:

      She should've never been expelled, charged, or anything. No rewards, or punishments, maybe a warning and explanation, just kids being kids.
      The person who got scared the most by the experiment was probably her, and that's it... that's where it ends.

      Everything else that happened in this case is adult humans failing left and right, the police, the school officer, the principal, bunch of f'in morons who aren't fit to work at a McDonalds yet hold positions of authority. Th

    • It bothers me more than so many 'authorities' are submitting their wills to fear of the unknown.

      Mind you, if I worked for the CIA, I'd be absolutely tickled at the idea of some power (foreign or native...not like they care these days) were scared shitless that there might be a bomb hidden in every tree on their way to work, or that mosquitoes might be loaded with a neuro-toxin and let loose near their window...as that level of paranoia is something the CIA works HARD to achieve in targets. Still, as a citiz

  • amazing news, congrats for the kid.
  • I'll ask him to say hello and give our good wishes. October Sky is one of our favourite films and let's hope Kiera does as well as Homer Hickam did despite his early escapades.
  • Total Win (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:22AM (#43804041)
    I'm glad to see that at least some people have morals. Wanting to experiment with science and NOT hurting anyone in the process shouldn't be met by being kicked out of school, she's getting what she deserves.
    • by Bigby (659157)

      I would go as far to say, if she accidentally hurt someone, she still shouldn't have been kicked out of school. Intent is a major factor there. If a football player accidentally injures another player, should he get kicked off the team? Kicked out of school?

    • Wanting to experiment with science and NOT hurting anyone in the process shouldn't be met by being kicked out of school, she's getting what she deserves.

      Given that currently she's still kicked out of school, those two statements don't seem to match up.

    • I'm glad to see that at least some people have morals. Wanting to experiment with science and NOT hurting anyone in the process shouldn't be met by being kicked out of school

      While that's a true statement - it's completely irrelevant in this case.

      She wasn't doing any kind of reasonable "science experiment" - she mixing together chemicals as recommended by a friend to make a smoke bomb. She had no idea what the chemicals were, no real idea of the possible or probable outcomes, etc... etc... About as

  • in my class (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slashmydots (2189826) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:24AM (#43804057)
    In my high school chemistry class, we made gunpowder (which someone accidentally shattered a mortar and pestle with) and hydrogen mini-rockets (we filled ours with butane and put a hole in the ceiling tiles) and that was called a chapter in the book, not a crime. Though unlike the media, I think the difference isn't that I'm white, it's that that school district and police department is full of complete morons.
    • I think the difference isn't that I'm white, it's that that school district and police department is full of complete morons.

      Let me guess: did not go to school in Florida?

    • Was it black powder or a more modern nitro cellulose based one? While I didn't get to do those exact things there were some rather fun "experiments" we did. There was the create 1 mol of a random precipitate where the teacher screwed up and my partner and I got one that didn't precipitate but instead made the toxic gas hydrogen sulfide (I think that was it I could be wrong as it was a long time ago). It was only after we had started the reaction that the teacher announced that whom ever had that one to not
    • by pongo000 (97357)

      We made nitrogen triiodide and copper acetylide...both very explosive, both very fun to play with. No one got hurt, no one got arrested either. Science now in schools is so watered down that they don't even have chemistry lab anymore in most public schools...instead, students watch the teacher do the lab and then write about it. Hardly a robust science education...and everyone wonders why we can't get more students involved in science?

  • by BitwizeGHC (145393) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:47AM (#43804343) Homepage

    What she made wasn't really a science experiment; it was a "bottle bomb" consisting of mixing tinfoil and Drano in a Coke bottle. These explosives are well-known among schoolyard pranksters and can cause serious injury (chemical burns, loss of fingers, etc.)

    It's not politically correct to say, but if she was cooking one of these up on school property with her friends without teacher oversight, she should have been punished. As long as she didn't actually hurt anyone, though, it should have amounted into a few days' detention at worst.

    That said, I'm happy she's going to space camp and that this sort of mischief might develop into a real interest in science.

    • Hell we were doing those experiments in my 7th grade chemistry class where chemistry was basically like a cook book with little understanding. We would have a test tube with acid in it, drop in some aluminum foil, put a balloon over it to fill it with hydrogen. Tie off the balloon attach a string so it floats up and touch with a lit match on a yard stick and have a little chuckle at the pop and fire.
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      it's not an explosive any more than a popping balloon is.

      • it's not an explosive any more than a popping balloon is.

        Yes it is. Aside from the fact that a balloon doesn't involve dangerous sharp or caustic parts flying in all directions, popping a balloon doesn't involve a chemical reaction. This draino bomb does indeed involve a chemical reaction. In that sense it is little different than any other chemical reaction. True, the draino-aluminum reaction is slower as pressure builds up, but in the end there is a dangerous violent burst (intentionally) caused by

      • Exploding hydrogen is more than a popping balloon. It can burn you. Also it generates toxic dihydrogen monoxide. In a closed quarter that could be lethal if inhaled.

        • by Yebyen (59663)

          Ahh, the good old Toxic Dihydrogen Monoxide gag. Common household chemical, The True #1 leading cause of drowning deaths, it's even found naturally in our own bodies.

    • by PRMan (959735)
      A three-day suspension would have been reasonable, with a warning that any sort of experiment like this must involve the science teacher for safety reasons. Expulsion, arrest and criminal charges are ridiculous.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:00PM (#43804491)

    It's time we started making very loud and angry noises about zero tolerance being utterly unacceptable[1]. Students need the freedom to screw up in the pursuit of fooling around with some learning.

    Things need to be exploded, burnt, and launched. Children need to have the freedom to throw balls at each other, wrestle, and do other dangerous things. Criminalizing mistakes and foolishness is as near fascist behavior as I have ever heard.

    Tomfoolery for all, everywhere!

    [1] Don't make a false equivalency between things that look scary and acts that are harmful.

  • Liquid nitrogen will do the same thing.

    As an intern at NASA Ames during summer break, I thought it would be fun to do a little experiment on the expansion of gas inside a contained vessel. So I put a small amount of LN2 into a 2-liter cola bottle and set it in an unoccupied back parking lot surrounded by 3-story, nearly windowless buildings. As the LN2 changes to gaseous form, the bottle began to expand, almost in-noticeably. After a minute or two, the glued on, wrap around label snapped off, and few sec

  • So a gross miscarriage of justice is averted. Now it's time to sack all those involved.

    And while we are at it the same penalty should be administered to those who involved in charging Kaitlyn Hunt with two felony counts for having consensual lesbian sex with her high school mate.

    What is it about Florida anyway?

  • by realsilly (186931) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @03:37PM (#43806835)

    This is not to say that I think this teenager committed a crime, personally I do not. When I went to school, there was Detention and then there was the big all day on Saturday detention. Personally I don't think this young lady should have been expelled, or even suspended. Two full all day detentions where she has to clean toilets, bathrooms, desks, buses, etc... would have sufficed.

    Certainly, after that incident the school should have made an announcement that the situation was not considered acceptable without permission / supervision from a chemistry teacher. And then any future situations of a similar nature would result in a x #no of day(s) suspension. And a repeat offender, expulsion.

    This would encourage students to be curious and cautious by approaching the appropriate teacher and getting guidance and permission.

    School is for curiosity and learning. Students make mistakes but it shouldn't stay with them for the rest of their academic lives.

    Hell if a teenager kills someone, their name is usually kept from the papers, they go to juvenile detention and their records are sealed at 18. This one young lady experiments with some chemical house hold items and she's persecuted across America by those who insist on zero tolerance.

    Folks, I don't want to see people get hurt unnecessarily, but we learn from our mistakes, let us make them without persecution forever.

    Zero-tolerance is the destruction of basic human nature and most of all COMMON SENSE. Every situation is different, Every student is different, treat them differently.

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