29 May 2013

School may discipline teacher who advised students of their Constitutional rights

From the Chicago-area Daily Herald:
[John Dryden] wants people to focus on the issue he raised: Whether school officials considered that students could incriminate themselves with their answers to the survey that included questions about drug and alcohol use.

Dryden, a social studies teacher, told some of his students April 18 that they had a 5th Amendment right to not incriminate themselves by answering questions on the survey, which had each student's name printed on it...

The survey asked about drug, alcohol and tobacco use, and emotions, according to Brad Newkirk, chief academic officer. The results were to be reviewed by school officials, including social workers, counselors and psychologists.

The survey was not a diagnostic tool, but a "screener" to figure out which students might need specific help, Newkirk said. Superintendent Jack Barshinger said teacher support for doing a survey grew after several suicides by students in recent years. Students and staff typically said they had no idea those teens were in distress...

Dryden said it was just "dumb luck" he learned about the contents. He picked up surveys from his mailbox about 10 minutes before his first class. Seeing students' names on them, unlike past surveys, he started reading the 34 questions.

"Oh. Well. Ummm, somebody needs to remind them they have the ability not to incriminate themselves," he recalled thinking. It was particularly on his mind because his classes had recently finished reviewing the Bill of Rights...

Dryden faces having a "letter of remedy" placed in his employment file. He said this week he is negotiating the matter with district authorities.
Discussed at Reddit.


  1. He's getting in trouble for telling kids to not fill out the survey? That's sad. When I was in high school, I purposely made up the information, or didn't fill anything out and waste my time. I never got in trouble because the surveys were being sold to some other company for profit or for something that would help the school make money. (Like getting information about going to the football games so that other companies will want to participate in our events.) But this was made to identify kids in need. I can understand the school being upset, but they shouldn't be upset with the teacher... They should be upset with the students who don't fill in the surveys. What the teacher said wasn't wrong- They are essentially mad at him for pointing out something to the students.

  2. I'm not surprised. In my experience, school officials often have a reflexively authoritarian personality.

  3. I used to refuse to enter race and relegion on forms when I was a kid, used to drive my teachers crazy. Why do schools expect kids to respond honestly?

    1. Absolutely correct. If the school is educating the kids about the Constitution, the kids would know that they have 5th Amendment rights, and any kid with the intelligence of a kumquat would know not to admit to anything illegal.

      Actually, the form itself should - since it is asking for info about illegal activity, should have a warning on it about self-incrimination. They shouldn't be putting teachers and students in the position they did.

      But, Batavia is a totally right-wing town, VERY Republican - the kind of Republicans with bucks. And the kind of school district where there is a lot of pressure put on kids to achieve. So, as good Republicans will do, they want to point at something else as the cause of kids committing suicide.

      Barrington High School, not so far away, has the same suicide problem, along with the same push by parents and school officials to achieve. I know one of the counselors there, and he assigns the suicides there to the pressure, ,even though drugs are also rampant. The drugs are an EFFECT, as he sees it.

      I don't KNOW that the pressure conditions are completely the same, but with very much the same demographics, I think it should be considered to be pretty much the same.

      I would wonder what OTHER questions are on the questionnaire - like,

      "Do you feel a lot of pressure from your parents to get into the best college possible?"

      "Do you feel a lot of pressure from your teachers/counselors to get into the best college possible?"

      "Do you feel a lot of pressure from your peers to get into the best college possible?"

    2. I think Steve hit the nail on the head.

  4. I grew up in the era when we were all warned about our "permanent" record and that it would follow us throughout our lives. I worried excessively about that and tried my damnedest to make sure that there would be only good things listed. I know now that back then no one had the capability of recording everything we thought, said or did -- but they do now.

    I am glad that the teacher reminded students of their right not to answer. Hell, at least murderers are read their rights. Students should not be expected to incriminate themselves unwittingly. Who knows where those questionnaires will wind up? It may be the reason somebody doesn't get into college or doesn't get a job. What a bunch of jackasses at that school. All parents should demand that the school return those questionnaires to the students for destruction -- and no copies should have been made of them.

    1. Amen, Classof65. Class of '67 here myself, back when they taught Civics well and truly.

      See my comment just above about the school.

      Any kid smart enough to get into a good college has no business answering such questions without putting up a hell of a ruckus. And, YES, the parents - no matter HOW Republican they are - should realize that his/her kid could be jeopardizing his college future by answering them. Good intentions or not (No one really knows how honest the school is about their intentions), the parents themselves should be up in arms about this.

  5. Kudos to John Dryden! He was being a good teacher, not only teaching children about their constitutional rights and their right to exercise them, but in putting his students first. In my experience, putting students first can get you in big trouble with the administration. Also in my opinion, it's worth it to live up to one's own standards. Students first!

  6. Nope, got my but kicked by the man in the 80s. Our school was doing random locker searches, stop and searches, etc. I thought it was humiliating and a violation of my personal rights.
    Supreme court ruled that minors do not possess the same constitutional rights as adults. Which kind of makes sense - but it killed my national pride.
    I took that as I was not an american until I turned 18 (in spite of native birth and paying income tax since I was 15).
    Sad thing was that shortly after becoming 18, we started down the path of unjust wars, then the patriot act,... RIP constitution.

  7. I've found that K-12 administration are where school bullies go when they grow up... if they avoid jail first and are smart enough to escape P.E. teacher purgatory. I've worked at several school districts and found that the vice-principles tend to be the worst of the bunch. There are glaring exceptions, but, they tend to end up like this teacher in the end.

  8. Identifying students in need of help is vital, but so is protecting privacy. If Mr. Dryden and his students couldn't trust that this survey was not going to be used in a punitive fashion, how exactly is punishing Mr. Dryden going to build that trust and encourage students to be honest with administration?

  9. If teacher unions were anywhere near as strong as the general public perceive them to be, this outrage against Mr. Dryden would have never come to pass. And if these school officials weren't the pompous, hypocritical asses that they are, they would have commended him for a job well done, and set the example for his students.

  10. Note that in the Daily Herald article it says this about Dryden, the teacher:

    "He suspects it was a teacher who told the administration about what Dryden had done, after the other teacher had trouble getting all the students to take the survey."

    Good for the students! EVERY teacher should have had that trouble, if they were teaching kids properly.

    Unfortunately, it is a terrible fact of life in the good ol' U.S. of A. that students, when they walk onto school grounds, have MUCH fewer rights than they have elsewhere. The (increasingly reactionary) courts have ruled time and again that by attending a public school they have abdicated some rights. And in attending private schools they have even LESS rights - they have to voluntarily give them up when their parents put them in those schools.


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