Kiera Wilmot already paid too high price for science experiment

Beth Kassab on Florida's out of line student arrests.

Kiera Wilmot was handcuffed at her high school, hustled into the back of a police car and taken to jail for something that should have sent her to a few days of after-school detention.

If common sense prevailed over draconian codes of conduct in Florida schools, then none of us would even know of 16-year-old Kiera and her run-in with the law.

Instead Kiera is more evidence that this state's schools are just about the worst place for students to be if they're trying to keep their noses clean.

Unforgiving rules turn juvenile curiosities into criminal felonies.

Too many kids end up in the slammer instead of class.

In Florida, we arrest students for such menacing offenses as standing up to a bully, bringing a plastic butter knife to school, even hitting someone on the head with a Tootsie Pop.

Florida's 6th through 12th graders are arrested at school at a rate of 10 per 1,000. That's far higher than places such as New York City, where the rate is 4 per 1,000.

And we wonder why the court system is so clogged.

Not that Kiera's offense should have gone unpunished.

Last month she mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a water bottle outside Bartow High School while waiting for the first bell to ring.

Kiera expected a puff of smoke when the common household items were combined. And her friends were egging her on, said her attorney Larry Hardaway..

Instead the mixture produced a small explosion.

It was stupid, unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

But nobody was hurt and no school property was damaged.

At one time justice for such antics would have ended with the school principal, and possibly worse, mom and dad.

But Kiera was hauled off to jail to face possible charges of possessing or discharging a weapon or firearm on school property and discharging a destructive device.

Both are third-degree felonies. Punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

All because a 16-year-old girl — who makes good grades and had never been in trouble before — succumbed to peer pressure and made a dumb mistake?

Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill didn't think so. He dismissed her case Wednesday.

But for weeks his office investigated the matter, contending with Kiera's attorney and numerous calls from media — especially once Kiera's arrest became a popular Internet meme.

CHICAGO

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