Ben Franklin was wrong when he said "honesty is the best policy."

Just ask the parents of 7-year-old Darin Simak.

Darin is a first grade student at the New Kensington-Arnold School District.

He recently forgot his book bag at a friend's house, so his mother gave him a different book bag. When he got to school, he realized a toy gun was in the book bag.

Knowing it was wrong to bring a toy gun to school, he approached his teacher and told her.

Darin's honesty got him into a lot of trouble. We're not sure what transpired, but we wouldn't be shocked to hear that alarms rang, a lockdown occurred, and the SWAT team was called. After all, Darin brought a "gun" to school, a big no-no by any standard. Do you detect sarcasm?

Initially Darin was to be expelled. A hearing was held and it was agreed to just give him a two-day suspension.

This is a first-grader with a toy gun, not a crazy fanatic making threats. He made a mistake and realized he was in trouble. Children are told to go to a teacher or police officer.

But the teacher didn't help Darin.

You know what lesson Darin probably learned from the experience? That honesty just might not be right. That there's nobody out there you can trust.

Has common sense totally disappeared?

Darin's situation isn't unique. We've read reports of kids getting expelled for having squirt guns. There was one case of a suspension because a child somehow chewed or cut her peanut butter sandwich in what looked to be the shape of a gun and got suspended.

If a student brings a toy gun into the school that looks real, and especially if that student even pretends to threaten other students with it, then action is needed.

But this a 7-year-old, who probably can't hit the ball past the pitcher's mound in Little League, who tells his teacher he has a toy gun in his backpack that was there by accident. A suspension is ridiculous.

How times have changed, and not for the better.

Betcha children playing cops and robbers has led some children into careers as police officers (although, admittedly, some robbers may have emerged from the bunch).

Think about how proud you were to be an American when playing with your G.I. Joe.

And what is wrong with children playing with water pistols? If they're brought to school, so what?

Let's get back to the lesson in honesty. It's a very poor educator, be it the teacher or the principal, who doesn't understand the consequences of denying a youngster who comes for assistance.

Shame on the officials of the school district who suspended Darin. Forget the bull about zero tolerance. This wasn't a gun. It was a toy.

It must feel powerful for a school official to be able to have the control to expel a youngster who made a harmless mistake, and asked for help.

Children need guidance. They need understanding. They also need adults they can confide in.

Those officials in the New Kensington-Arnold School District who had a role in Darin's suspension don't have the ability for any of the above.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com