Teacher In Trouble For Advising Students On Their Constitutional Rights

As a way to combat teen suicides, a survey was administered to students in the Batavia Public School District in Illinois to detect the early warning signs of social-emotional behavior problems. The results of the survey are being reviewed by social workers, psychologists and counselors to find out each student’s “specific needs.”

Besides questions about each student’s emotions, it also included questions about alcohol, tobacco and drug use. I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked about guns at home.

One teacher John Dryden saw forcing students to incriminate themselves by answering some of these survey questions as a violation of their Constitutional right not to incriminate themselves.

As a social studies teacher, Dryden has been credited by students and parents alike for getting reluctant students interested in history and current events. He teaches about the Bill of Rights, and why it’s so important today. I’m sure the 5th Amendment was fresh on his mind from one of his classes. Or from Lois Lerner.

The first time Dryden saw the surveys was about 10 minutes before he had to administer them on April 18. He picked them up from his mailbox and scanned the questions and noticed the incriminating questions. He was concerned, but he had no time to discuss anything with school officials, so as he said, “[he] made a judgment call.” He simply told his students that they had a 5th Amendment right not to incriminate themselves, insinuating that if anyone chose to plead the 5th, that student wouldn’t have to take the survey.

As with any other standardized test, teachers were given scripts to read to the students. (“Read the instructions to yourself as I read them aloud…”) Nowhere in the script for this survey did it say anything about whether it was mandatory or voluntary.

There was, however, a communication sent to the parents some time before the survey was given, telling them that it was not mandatory, but that parents would have to notify the district by April 17 if they opted their child out of it.

What I gathered is that the teachers (or at least Dryden) were not notified of this communication, and that they knew nothing about the survey’s contents until the last minute. This would be why Dryden said what he said to the students. And he only said that because he happened to have scanned the 34 questions basically on the way from the mailroom to his classroom.

He’s now facing a “letter of remedy,” which can only be issued by a school board and which informs the teacher of improper behavior and can result in termination. The matter will be discussed in a closed-door session today, but any action taken toward the teacher will be done publicly.

I still don’t know what problem the school officials had with Dryden advising his students on their 5th Amendment protections. Maybe that wasn’t in their “script.” It seems they’re trying to screen students for “mental illness,” and they don’t want the Constitution interfering with their interrogations of students.

Because of Dryden’s good reputation with students and parents, there has been an outpouring of support for him:

“They’ve been collecting signatures on an online petition, passing the word on Facebook, sending letters to the school board, and planning to speak at Tuesday’s school board meeting.”

 I don’t know where Dryden stands politically, but I’m glad that he’s getting his students interested in history and the Constitution. I know that if I were one of those students, I’d definitely plead the 5th, and I’ve never committed a crime. I wouldn’t want some school psychologist or social worker psychoanalyzing my answers to find out my own, customized “specific needs.” I’d rather just say nothing.