ACLU of Florida Calls on Polk County Superintendent to Allow Student Arrested for Science Project Back to Her School
16-Year-Old Kiera Wilmot Was Arrested and Expelled Following a Science Experiment at Bartow High School
May 22, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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MIAMI – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sent a letter to Dr. John A. Stewart, Interim Superintendent of Polk County Public Schools, calling on him to allow Kiera Wilmot to return to Bartow High School for the remainder of the school year. Kiera is a 16 year-old student who was handcuffed, arrested, expelled from her high school and faced felony charges for performing a science experiment on campus.
“Kiera’s case is part of a dangerous nationwide trend of student behavior being over-criminalized and kids being pushed out of classrooms and into the criminal justice system,” stated Joyce Hamilton Henry, Mid-Florida Regional Director for the ACLU of Florida, who attended a press conference with Kiera and her family today. “Kiera is a good student who is interested in science and engineering. One mistake shouldn’t mean she’s denied the future full of opportunities that she was trying so hard to earn. Schools should help kids learn from their mistakes and become responsible members of their communities—that’s what education is all about.”
The letter sent by the ACLU to the Superintendent highlights three areas of concern for the way that school administrators have handled Kiera’s case: the problems with “zero tolerance” application of school discipline policies; the involvement of law enforcement in school disciplinary matters; and Kiera’s ongoing discipline. The letter also calls on the school board to amend the Student Code of Conduct to limit the situations in which student behavior is referred to law enforcement to cases where there is a serious ongoing threat to safety.
From the letter:
“We are troubled by the harsh punishment of 16 year-old Kiera Wilmot for what appears to be a curious young woman’s decision to undertake a science experiment. We believe that this single transgression did not require Kiera’s arrest and does not warrant her continued exclusion from Bartow High School and all extracurricular activities.
We ask that you rectify the injustice of Ms. Bartow’s suspension and transfer to an Alternative Education Program by allowing her to return to Bartow High School to complete the school year in her community with her twin sister.”
A copy of the letter is available here.
The ACLU had previously organized a petition on Kiera’s behalf calling on Polk County School Administrators to reinstate Kiera and for the Bartow Police Department to drop all criminal charges. That petition is available here.
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