Article below the fold. For amusement value, I have designated in [square brackets] where to insert the phrase "for his science project" in the same way people tack on "in bed" after a fortune cookie fortune -- and a few other tart observations.
Science project prompts SD school evacuation
By Susan Shroder, Union-Tribune Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:04 p.m.
SAN DIEGO — Students were evacuated from Millennial Tech Magnet Middle School in the Chollas View neighborhood Friday afternoon after an 11-year-old student brought a personal science project that he had been making at home to school, authorities said.
Maurice Luque, spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said the student had been making the device [FOR HIS SCIENCE PROJECT] in his home garage [which is obviously very scary and suspicious, except in Palo Alto, where he would have made his classmates sign NDAs and we would expect an IPO on Friday]. A vice principal saw the student showing it [HIS SCIENCE PROJECT] to other students at school about 11:40 a.m. Friday and was concerned that it [THE SCIENCE PROJECT IN A TECH MAGNET] might be harmful [although the story has not gotten around to mentioning yet that this is a cut-open bottle of Gatorade with some wiring, so what exactly looked dangerous was hard to say] and San Diego police were notified.
The school, which has about 440 students in grades 6 to 8 and emphasizes technology skills, was initially put on lockdown [FOR A SCIENCE PROJECT] while authorities responded.
Luque said the project was made of an empty half-liter Gatorade bottle with some wires and other electrical components attached. There was no substance inside. [In other words, it was obvious to anyone with sense and a little science knowledge that this could not be a bomb, since there was nothing in it that could explode. Unless the authorities believed an 11 yr old had invented a death ray [FOR HIS SCIENCE PROJECT], it is unclear how they thought this was potentially dangerous.]
When police and the Metro Arson Strike Team responded, they also found electrical components in the student's backpack [FOR HIS SCIENCE PROJECT], Luque said. After talking to the student, it was decided about 1 p.m. to evacuate the school as a precaution while the item [FOR HIS SCIENCE PROJECT] was examined. Students were escorted to a nearby playing field, and parents were called and told they could come pick up their children.
A MAST robot took pictures of the device [which you will recall is a cut open Gatorade bottle with circuits] and X-rays [OF HIS SCIENCE PROJECT] were evaluated. About 3 p.m., the device was determined to be [A] harmless [SCIENCE PROJECT], Luque said.
Luque said the project was intended to be a type of motion-detector device [FOR HIS SCIENCE PROJECT]. [Which not only seems a reasonable science project for a Tech Magnet, but is in no way even remotely suggestive of any hostile or antisocial intent.]
Both the student and his parents were "very cooperative" with authorities, Luque said. He said fire officials also went to the student's home and checked the garage to make sure items there were neither harmful nor explosive. [Here is where it starts to go from "stupid/funny" weird to "disturbing/Kafkaesque" weird. Given that this was clearly a peaceful science project, and everyone involved was 'very cooperative,' why the heck did they search the house? OK, maybe this is just standard procedure or something.]
"There was nothing hazardous at the house," Luque said. [So this is where everyone apologizes to the kid and tells the Vice Principal not to be a moron, given that this is a tech magnate school, right?]
The student will not be prosecuted, [sigh ...I guess not] but authorities were recommending that he and his parents get counseling [FOR HIS SCIENCE PROJECT], the spokesman said. The student violated school policies, but there was no criminal intent, Luque said. [And this is where it gets into "WTF/dangerous" weird. What "school policy" could possibly have been broken? The 'don't have a science project that looks like a science project' policy? The 'don't be smarter than Vice Principal Moron McStupidhead' policy? And why on Earth would either the chold or his family need "counseling?" I would suggest that Vice Principal McStupidhead and the San Diego police need "counseling," "training," and whatever else it takes not to be such friggin' morons wasting botaloads of tax payer money, inconveniencing a schoolful of kids and parents and, worst of all blaming it all on some poor innocent kid and his family when they did nothing wrong!]
"There will be no (criminal) charges whatsoever, [FOR HIS SCIENCE PROJECT]" Luque said. [Wow, that's so generous of you.]
Police and fire officials also will not seek to recover costs associated with responding to the incident, the spokesman said. [How generous, given that the costs were entirely avoidable -- although I would suggest recovering them from Vice Principal Moron McStupidhead.]
Luque said both the student and his parents were extremely upset.
"He was very shaken by the whole situation, as were his parents," Luque said. [DUH! I would be too if some idiot Vice Principal at a Tech Magnet school called the bomb squad on my kid's science project, and they took four hours and insisted on searching my house and then told the media I should get 'counseling.']
The school is located on Carolina Lane near Hilltop Drive.
Adjacent Gompers Charter Middle School was not affected during the incident, police Sgt. Ray Battrick said.
Millennial Middle School opened in fall 2008. It is part of the San Diego Unified School District.
An observant commentor posted the following questions worth repeating here:
Q. Why didn't the vice principle simple ask the student what the item was? A few electronic components in a gatoraide bottle made by an 11 year old can't really be a credible threat.
Q. Why didn't anyone at a TECHNICAL SCHOOL quickly determine that this was a non-issue?
Q. If this basic science project was a simple electronic motion detector, why did it take the police & fire department over 3 hours (!) to determine it was harmless, especially after asking the reportedly cooperative student for details?
Q. If, after determining this was all just silly over-reaction, why did the police decide it was then necessary to search the students garage? Were they turning this into a training exercise or just escalating the situation to avoid looking silly too?
Q. Why would any kind of 'counseling' be recommended if this was all just a silly over-reaction? Why would a public official make such a damning public pronouncement about family whom they just declared innocent of any wrongdoing? Doesn't this expose the city to tort litigation?
Q. While over-reactions in ambiguous situations may be (judgmentally) required if a credible threat to public safety exists, why were such actions taken in this case, and what process or policy changes will be put in place to prevent future expensive over-reactions in similarly non-threatening cases?
Q. What censure or official rebuke of the decision makers at the school, police and fire departments will be undertaken?
Q. How will the school mitigate or repair any social or psychological damage to the child and his family?
Q. How will the school prevent over-reactions like this one from having a chilling effect on students who wish to safely explore science and technology beyond the core curriculum?
and most importantly, IMHO:
Q. Why are journalists such as yourselves not asking any real, meaningful questions? Why are you simply (and lazily) just reiterating the "official statements" that officials in CYA-mode issue, and calling this the whole of the story? Sigh.