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I have often written about the lunacy and abuse of zero tolerance policies in schools. In February of 2013, in Tiny Terrorist Returns To School!  I wrote:

Zero tolerance policies of any kind are foolish and sure to harm everyone that applies or runs afoul of them.  They are zero discretion and zero thinking policies.  They suggest that school districts don’t think highly enough of the intellects and common sense of their employees to trust them with adult decisions.  Alternately they allow incompetent, even malicious, people to avoid making decisions and doing the jobs for which the public hires them.  They are feel good statements of false virtue rather than the application of professional judgment and adult good sense.

Such policies are particularly egregious and subject to abuse when the things not to be tolerated are guns, or in the case of many schools, even imaginary guns, as The New York Daily News reports:

An innocent game of ‘King and Queens’ landed a 5-year-old girl in hot water with her North Carolina school.

Brandy Miller was stunned when she received a letter from her daughter Caitlin’s school informing her that the child was going to be suspended for one day.

In the note Hoke County School stated that Caitlin could not return to school until Tuesday, March 28, because she turned a stick into a gun and threatened ‘to shoot and kill other students.’

Miller told ABC 11 that Caitlin, a kindergartner, was playing a game called ‘King and Queens’ on the playground with two of her friends when she saw the stick on the ground and used it as a prop.

Evil and deadly assault stick

Caitlin explained to the outlet that one of her friend’s was the queen, the other was the princess and she was the guard.

She innocently crafted a weapon to protect the queen, unaware of the consequences.

One minute she’s playing with her friends, and the next her teachers are dragging her to the principal’s office,’ the girl’s mom said. ‘She’s confused. Nobody’s explaining anything to her.

Gee, I don’t know. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. How about you, gentle readers? Maybe there’s more we just don’t know:

The school told the outlet that it stands by suspending Caitlin because it does ‘not tolerate assaults, threats or harassment from any student.

Hmm. “Assaults, threats or harassment, eh?” I’ve scoured the Internet looking for additional details, and it appears that little Caitlin’s mother’s version of the incident is accurate. Caitlin was playing with the “gun” depicted above. She assaulted no one, harassed no one, and was threatening only to the imaginary enemies of the “king” and “queen” she was charged with protecting. Clearly, however, Caitlin’s imagination, and deadly assault stick were threatening to the hypersensitive and clearly irrational “educators” involved.

The New York Post adds details:

Caitlin returned to school Tuesday after serving the suspension – and now her mom is demanding an apology.

‘I just want them to apologize to her and tell her, ‘It’s OK. You can be five and have an imagination,’ Miller said.

Miller said because of school shootings that have happened across the country she understands the policy, but said her daughter was simply using her imagination while playing with friends.

Hoke County School did not return the Daily News’ request for comment.

Imagine that. What are we to make of supposed educators, people with college educations, and in some cases, graduate degrees, that can’t tell the difference between an actual weapon, and a mere stick laying about a playground? And what was the school doing allowing such a dangerous, threatening, assaultive and harassing weapon to lay about a playground in the first place?  Don’t they employ stick sniffing dogs to avoid such deadly danger?

Of course, the larger question is what are we to think of educators that can’t tell the difference between the playful imaginations of five year olds and actually dangerous and potentially criminal behavior?

A great deal went wrong here. The error was that of the teacher or teachers involved. They had the opportunity to use the minimal discretion and common sense any teacher must have, and they either blindly adhered to an unprofessional and inherently harmful policy, or demonstrated they have no common sense and are not to be trusted with the exercise of reasonable professional discretion.

The next error was committed by the Principal of Caitlin’s school. Teachers do not have the authority to suspend or expel students. In this case, the Principal should have recognized the absurdity of the teacher’s actions, and immediately reversed them. Obviously, that did not happen, and a five-year-old, harmless little girl was suspended from kindergarten—kindergarten—for engaging in utterly harmless play.

The next error was committed, or may soon be committed, by the school district’s Superintendent. It’s likely he was not aware of the incident or the suspension, but he certainly is aware now. Obviously, he should be reversing the adverse actions against Caitlin, apologizing, and expunging her record. We shall see if the school district has rational, adult management and supervision.

The next error might be committed by the school board. They were almost certainly not notified of the original incident or suspension, nor did they likely know of the superintendent’s actions, or lack thereof, however, they too are now certainly aware of this situation. If the superintendent is incapable of doing the right thing, he must exercise their authority in correcting him and everyone under him.

What should have been done? This should never have gone beyond the lowest level: the teacher. At most, they should have taken the stick from Caitlin, told her they were concerned she might fall and hurt herself, and told her to continue having fun. That’s what adults should have done. That’s what professional, rational teachers should have done.

The final error might be that of the people of Hoke County, NC. We often forget we are the employers of public servants. This is particularly the case with school employees. Our property taxes directly pay their salaries and provide their facilities, and school board elections, particularly in smaller communities, are about as close as we get to direct democracy these days. In many places, one can speak with school board members over the backyard fence or in the local diner, and school board elections are often won or lost by a handful of votes, sometimes a single vote. That represents real power.

School boards hire and fire superintendents, who hire and fire other administrators, who hire and fire principals, who hire and fire teachers. Citizens hire and fire them all. Something everyone should remember.

The Superintendent of the Hoke County Schools is Dr. Freddie Williamson.  He may be contacted here.

I’m sending him a copy of this article. Should you decide, gentle readers, to contact him as well, please use the civilized discourse you always practice here. Gentle persuasion is always best, until those one seeks to gently persuade demonstrate they are immune to conscience, shame and reason.

Do it for the children. Do it for Caitlin.

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