Teacher Reprimanded For Advising Students of Their Constitutional Rights

Thursday, 30 May 2013 11:24 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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An Illinois teacher who was reprimanded this week for reminding his students of their constitutional right to decline to fill out a drug-use survey is garnering support from parents and students who are calling him a hero.

John Dryden, who has taught social studies at Batavia High School for 20 years, was suspended for one day without pay this week for citing the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination to his students before they filled out a school-sanctioned drug and alcohol use survey last month.

The one-page questionnaire was distributed at the high school after a rash of suicides and was meant to document students' behaviors in order to assess who might be at risk. Parents and teachers received a brief explanation of the survey in advance but were not told that students' names would be listed on each questionnaire.

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When Dryden realized the surveys would not be anonymous, he warned his students against filling it out and reminded them of the Fifth Amendment.

"I looked at the questions and went, 'Oh my gosh,'" Dryden told the Chicago Tribune. "This is a state institution collecting data. ... What will they do with that? How long is it on the record? Is it going to be on the file?"

But the Batavia Public School District voted Tuesday to issue Dryden a suspension, despite the number of parents and students that turned out to support him.

"The issue before the board tonight was whether one employee has the right to mischaracterize the efforts of our teachers, counselors, social workers, and others, and tell our students, in effect, that the adults are not here to help but that they are trying to get you to 'incriminate' yourselves," Superintendent Jack Barshinger stated in a letter to the Batavia community.

In addition to Dryden's one-day suspension, an official "letter of remedy" was put in Dryden's file documenting what the board deemed was his "improper conduct."

"Apparently, I struck a nerve," Dryden told the Tribune. "[But] the community overall has been telling me they absolutely support me standing up for the kids and their rights."

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