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Juvenile's felony charges over science project sparks outrage

Last week, a 16-year-old Bartow girl with an exemplary school record was doing an assigned school science project. That's where the trouble began.

It was around 7:00 a.m. at Bartow High School when the girl began the experiment. She headed outside for safety reasons, and then mixed some ordinary household chemicals into a 12-ounce water bottle, expecting to see smoke. Instead, the chemical reaction caused the chemicals to expand beyond the bottle's structural strength, so the plastic top of the bottle popped off. No one was hurt, although there was smoke after the "explosion."

Instead of being coached along by a friendly science teacher about what went wrong, or a pep talk on how scientific experimentation inherently requires both success and failure, she was expelled from the school and arrested. She has been charged with two second-degree felonies, each of which carries a potential penalty of up to 15 years in prison. She will be charged as an adult, rather than being granted the confidentiality and age-appropriate processes available in juvenile court.

Perhaps it's society's anxiety over terrorism, but whatever the cause, both the Polk County Public School District and the local prosecutor appear to have overreacted completely to an utterly innocent event. There is no indication this girl was attempting to commit a crime, or even to play a prank. She was innocently going about her school science project, and a water bottle unexpectedly popped.

The story has made national news, and virtually every reporter has covered it as a shocking overreaction by local authorities. At the very least, it seems that the expulsion and criminal charges were carried out without a general consensus that the girl's actions were wrong.

Nevertheless, the school district is standing its ground, insisting her actions were wrongful in some way. "Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us," reads the district's press release on the subject. "Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules."

It's not clear she even made a "bad choice," but a 16-year-old juvenile is facing two adult felonies now.

Source: WSTP.com Teen girl arrested for 'science project gone bad, Melanie Michael, May 1, 2013

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