Good judgment is a good start

Posted 4/30/09

It’s about time, but judgment is making a comeback. In February, Cherry Creek High School student Marie Morrow faced expulsion because she left a …

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Good judgment is a good start

Posted

It’s about time, but judgment is making a comeback. In February, Cherry Creek High School student Marie Morrow faced expulsion because she left a plastic rifle in the back seat of her car when she drove to school. Not only was it a non-functioning rifle, she had no intention of using it for intimidation of fellow students. She’s a member of Douglas County Young Marines and she uses the rifle in performance drills.

But as soon as two fellow students — who noticed the gun in her car as they headed for the edge of campus to smoke a cigarette — reported it, a snowball of shameful decisions began to roll.

The district’s actions followed state law which, at the time, said that even facsimiles of guns aren’t allowed on school grounds, which follows school district policy mandating a 10-day suspension and a subsequent expulsion hearing. Following is the whole point.

As happens so many times in cases like these, people quit leading and start following. They suspend their own good judgment to follow policies created for events that have nothing to do with the situation at hand. They either don’t look at the intent of the policies and the intent of the people involved or they wait far too long to do so until things progress to ridiculous points. As my boss is fond of saying, people need to stop the music and think.

I think people in leadership positions, and often the people who put them in those positions, forget why they are where they are. Usually, it was their good judgment that inspired enough confidence in bosses, voters or whoever put them where they are.

I think the reason they forget is that the constituency beats it out of them. People in responsible positions often get much more criticism than they bargained for. I used to cover a town council where the mayor’s favorite joke at swearing-in ceremonies was, “You’ve been sworn in and from here on out, you’ll be sworn at.”

I understand the necessity of policy and procedure. I’m a managing editor, which makes me a middle manager who develops policies and enforces them. It’s tough to make decisions on the fly, so we create policies and procedures to think clearly through situations when we’re not in the heat of the moment so we have some road map to get us through those situations in the future.

But we should never suspend our judgment for the sake of a policy. The thinking through is never done and it’s the great leaders who rely on their own judgment when the situation calls for it.

Last week, Gov. Bill Ritter signed SB237, which allows school administrators some discretion in their handling of cases involving the facsimile of a firearm such as Morrow’s drill rifle.

It’s a good start.

Jeremy Bangs is the managing editor of Colorado Community Newspapers.

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