When we become slaves to policy, most vestiges of leadership are lost. We become the worst kind of bureaucrat, chained to inane rules for which no exceptions may be applied.

When we become slaves to policy, most vestiges of leadership are lost. We become the worst kind of bureaucrat, chained to inane rules for which no exceptions may be applied.

This is what has happened with the zero tolerance policies at schools regarding “weapons,” or as the word “weapon” has been defined and applied by these worst kind of bureaucrats in school boards, and among school administrators and teachers, and law enforcement personnel across the country.

Butter knives mistakenly included with school lunches have come to be defined as weapons. Go figure.

Florida is home to its share, I’m sure, of reasonable people. So I’m not sure where they’ve all gone off too because Florida has been one of the most egregious in enacting, enforcing and accepting zero tolerance (read “zero leadership”) policies in their schools.

The most ridiculously stupid example of this happened in October in Osceloa County’s St. Cloud. St. Cloud is aptly located not too far from Orlando’s fantasy theme parks. Leadership, too, apparently is a fantasy in Osceloa County schools.

An 8-year-old boy there was suspended from school for a day for fashioning his hand like a gun and pointing his finger at a playmate during a game of cops and robbers. His finger was apparently unloaded, though, because the boy reportedly didn’t say, “bang.” The lack of a smoking finger did not lessen, however, his offense and resulting punishment from the bureaucrats.

President Calvin Coolidge reminded us in his often used quote on persistence that, “… the world is full of educated derelicts.” So to be fair, Florida is not the only state burdened by educated but derelict educational bureaucrats.

Maryland schools suspended three kids recently for similar heinous acts of finger pointing perpetrated by the Florida boy. And a 12-year-old Virginia Beach boy was recently suspended for shooting an “airsoft” gun in his own yard while awaiting the school bus. Airsoft guns shoot plastic pellets and could, like Ralphie’s “official Red Ryder; carbine action; two-hundred shot range model air rifle” made famous in the 1983 movie “Christmas Story,” shoot an eye out.

But it was zero tolerance, chained-to-rules bureaucrats — not a mom’s concern for the danger of eye injury — that prompted this ridiculous suspension.

Even when kids self-report that they inadvertently brought a kitchen knife to school along with their lunch, they are suspended. So honesty is no longer the best policy. Is this really the lesson we want to teach our kids?

And so, thankfully, it was reported in the New York Times two weeks ago (by Lizette Alverez on Dec. 2) in a column entitled, “Seeing the toll, schools revise zero tolerance,” that “Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.”

Florida schools were the focus of this article, but finally the voices of reasonable people are being heard in Florida and elsewhere in America. We knew they were there. It just took a while for their voices to be heard.

I hope it’s not too late. The New York Times reported in a story the very next day (Dec. 3 by Motoko Rich) that American students, “… score in the middle of the developed world in reading and science while lagging in math according to international standardized test results.”

If America is going to compete globally, we have to do better in educating our children than “the middle of the pack.” Our kids have to be free to play and learn and make mistakes and be forgiven for minor infractions by the teacher. Keep the bureaucrats out of the decision-making process. They’ve proven themselves incapable of handling such matters.

One reason for the lagging of American students has got to be zero tolerance for kids’ play — that play that doesn’t meet the leaderless bureaucrats’ expectations and interpretations of the rules and doesn’t fall strictly within the boundaries of ridiculously limiting policies and regulations on so-called “weapons.”

Come on. Is there any reasonable person out there who honestly believes a finger gun or butter knife qualifies as a weapon in our schools?

I hope in Maryland and Virginia and anywhere else zero tolerance has taken hold in our nation’s schools that Florida’s lead is followed. Zero tolerance is strangling our kids’ imagination, their freedom, and their ability to make mistakes, learn a lesson, and move on unencumbered. Until zero tolerance is relieved — or ignored — the only real lesson our kids are learning is of the leadership deficit by the bureaucrats in their schools.

Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at fetzerab@ec.rr.com.