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When your high school gets you arrested for a science project

Last year Kiera Wilmot was busted for simulating a volcano with toilet cleaner and foil. Her record still lists felony arrest.

Still with a felony arrest record. WTSP-TV screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Our memories are sometimes even shorter than our tempers.

News is new for a few seconds and time propels us to other matters, whether we like it or not.

The consequences for those who suddenly make the news don't disappear quite as quickly.

A year ago, talented student Kiera Wilmot was arrested at Bartow High School in Florida. Did she pull a gun on someone? Did she cause some kind of riot. Not quite.

She put some toilet cleaner and aluminum foil inside an 8-ounce water bottle and watched it go bang. She said it was an advanced volcano science experiment.

No one was hurt. No damage was caused. No harm was done.

You might think she got a slap on the wrist or a touch of detention. Instead, she was arrested for felony possession and discharge of a dangerous weapon.

At the time, she wrote a piece for the Huffington Post, in which she described her arrest: "They didn't read me any rights. They arrested me after sitting in the office for a couple minutes. They handcuffed me. It cut my wrist, and really hurt sitting on my hands behind my back."

No charges were filed and she will, at least, be allowed to graduate next week. However, a new video produced by the Advancement Project shows that Wilmot can't exactly consign the episode to the past.

She says in the video that her lawyers have told her it will take five years for the felony arrest record to be expunged.

There seems to be no provision for going to a friendly, sane local judge (it's true that some in Florida have trouble staying sober) and saying: "Hey, judge. The school was obviously bonkers here. Can you get your eraser out, and give the school principal some homework or suspension?"

It's not as if Wilmot had any history of delinquency. In fact, she's a very bright student who wants to be an engineer "building robots that can do tasks like surgeries or driving cars."

For some reason, though, schools enjoy a "zero tolerance" policy. That was Bartow High School's defense.

It's as if that's the only way they think they can maintain discipline. These cattleless big-hatters believe that if you frighten kids enough, you can create order.

Involving the police and criminal charges, arresting a student for, at best, a marginally injudicious exploration, suggests a particular loopiness where the facts don't matter and the fears dominate all.

On the positive side, Wilmot's explosion to a certain fame has secured her an invitation to the United States Space Academy.

However, wouldn't it be nice for her to go there without being labeled as someone who was once arrested for a felony?