Social Studies Teacher’s Absurd Reprimand

A social studies teacher in Batavia, Illinois has found himself in trouble for informing his students of their constitutional rights before taking out a school survey that might require them to incriminate themselves. He had just finished teaching about the Bill of Rights.

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 is part of measuring how students meet the social-emotional learning standards set by the state. It is the first year Batavia has administered such a survey…

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.

The teacher is right, of course. They don’t have to admit to a criminal act and either drinking or taking drugs would be criminal. For that, he faces potentially serious consequences:

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

Only a school board can issue a letter of remedy, which informs teachers their conduct was improper and could have consequences up to dismissal, according to state law.

Sounds like a great teacher to me.

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  • tmscott

    Sounds like the school board and the teacher who reported him could use a little remedial class time themselves.

  • TCC

    I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Dryden (not to be confused with this John Dryden) is right on the constitutional facts. On the other, that does seriously undercut the school’s efforts to help meet the needs of the students (provided that the school is concerned with helping to rehabilitate students who might have substance abuse problems – that information may the missing piece in understanding Dryden’s actions). I don’t think the response was proportional, in either case, however.

  • eidolon


    Yes – nothing undercuts the school’s efforts like informing students that they actually do not have to answer any questions that might place them at risk of punishment. Darn pesky constirtution.

  • brucegee1962

    There isn’t enough information in the article to tell who was in the right here. We don’t really know anything about what guarantees the school was providing to the students about privacy, legal liability, etc.

    I’d actually want to grill the district’s lawyer on this, though. Even if the district was intending to just use this information to direct students towards counseling — if the local police force finds out these documents exist where students confess to drug use, what’s to stop them from getting a subpoena and grabbing them?

  • burninghiram

    Yeah, at my district we do the same type of surveys, with this change…they are anonymous and then the counselors spend lots of time advertising the fact that they have resources for kids that need them, oh yeah, they also keep things confidential.

    How hard is it to do the right thing?

  • Gregory in Seattle

    Wow. So students can learn about their constitutional rights, but they are not permitted to actually use those rights?

  • tsig

    I find the concept that the use of an illegal drug means you need rehabilitation……frightening.

  • marcus

    @5 This.

    IMNSHFO the state has no right to these students to incriminate themselves. A person would have to be either ignorant (and this fine teacher helped alleviate that ignorance) or stupid to put their name on this ridiculous survey.

    TCC @ 2 To judge whether or not the teacher did the right thing you only need answer one question, “Did he tell them the truth about their civil rights?” Slam fucking dunk!

  • TCC

    Re: #5 – This survey is likely of the type that cannot be anonymous because it is part of the RtI (Response to Intervention) components that are mandated by the state of Illinois, which is meant to target students who require special intervention (but who do not belong in a special ed program) with a 3-tiered system. Illinois has already rolled this out for reading and math, and the last component is social-emotional. (The school I work in is in the middle of dealing with this last component presently.)

    I agree largely with brucegee1962 @4: The problem is whether there were any assurances that the information would/could not be used for disciplinary or legal purposes. If not, then Dryden was absolutely right to advise the students of this. (Actually, he was right in either case, but I do think that, if there were such assurances of confidentiality, he had a professional responsibility to advocate for students to be honest since there wouldn’t be legal ramifications. And, as I previously noted, the response is way out of proportion under any of these assumptions.)

  • TCC

    tsig: Since I assume that statement is likely directed at me, note that I said “substance abuse,” not “illegal drug use.” That might be a vague term, but it certainly isn’t what you inferred from my statement.

  • TCC

    marcus@8: I haven’t really argued that what Dryden did was “wrong,” per se, and I have already stated that he was correct in his statements about students’ constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination. But shame on me for considering the nuances of the situation, I guess.

  • marcus

    TCC @ 11Sorry I posted before your second post, which I agree with. I would tend to trust your grasp of nuance but that trust would not extend to any scholl board that I can think of nor would I take their guarantees of ‘confidentiality on faith. peace

  • Trebuchet

    I wouldn’t trust any assurances of confidentiality any farther than I could throw the nearest courthouse, where the local police could find a friendly judge to issue search warrants and subpoenas. No way there should have been names on the surveys.

  • Modusoperandi

    It’s also a good shortcut to find out who is stupid and needs further questioning to be certain (“On this question, you answered ‘yes’.” [smack on side of student’s head] “What, are you stupid?”)

  • left0ver1under

    In several other places where this has been discussed, there is a repeated and disturbing theme:

    There are a lot of idiots out there who “think” kids have no rights, that kids don’t deserve any legal protections because they’re not adults.

    No doubt such individuals “think” it’s okay to beat kids, that kids are property and “govinmunt shud stay out o’ our bizniss!” Many who said it want religion in schools.

  • Ace of Sevens

    Such a survey absolutely needs a guarantee that it can’t be used for disciplinary purposes. It’s the same principle as giving people guarantees that their testimony for the prosecution in a case won’t be used to prosecute them. They compromised their own effectiveness if they attempted to run such a survey without any guarantees.

  • CaitieCat

    TCC @9: An OT question – you said this:

    (The school I work in is in the middle of dealing with this last component presently.)

    Did you mean “they’re doing it now,” or “they’re going to start very soon”?

  • Taz

    I’m very impressed by this teacher, not least because of his thoughtful take on the situation:

    But Dryden doesn’t want this seen as him vs. the administrators. He said he knows they were acting in what they thought was the best interests of the students.

    “These are good, professional, smart people on the other side who want to do what is right by kids,” he said.

    He would rather focus the discussion on the survey.

    “I have asked people (the supporters) to talk about the survey. I think I am a sideshow,” he said. “This (the survey) was rushed and it wasn’t vetted.”

    “I’m not a martyr,” he said. “I’m trying to refocus people’s attentions. Calm down.”

  • zmidponk

    What are the legalities of schools reporting illegal behaviour by pupils if they know about it? I ask because it would not surprise me to find out that, if someone were to admit to illegal actions on this survey, the school could find itself in trouble if it did NOT report the matter to the police.

  • marcus

    I have to say this whole idea of having studentss admit to and to be identified as engaging in illegal or socially unacceptable behavior is fraught with peril. There is no guarantee of confidentiality that can be trusted, there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to protect these students from prosecution and the surveys are going to be useless because anyone with any sense would lie before admitting to these behaviors for the reasons noted above. “Not vetted” is a massive understatement, the ramifications were not even rationally considered.

    And zmidponk @ 19 brings yet another unconsidered aspect of this idiocy. If someone admits to some type of drug use and subsequently dies of an overdose of that drug, there almost certainly will be hell to pay if it was not reported to the police.

  • eric

    TCC @2:

    On the other, that [Dryden’s actions] does seriously undercut the school’s efforts to help meet the needs of the students (provided that the school is concerned with helping to rehabilitate students who might have substance abuse problems – that information may the missing piece in understanding Dryden’s actions)

    It is really difficult for me to believe that the school is primarily interested in helping the students if they are implying the students must answer these questions, pressuring the students to answer against their will, or deceiving the students about whether they have to answer these questions. At best, the school is sending very mixed signals to the students and Dryden’s comments helps point that out. “We want to help! That’s why we are going to pressure you in to doing something you don’t want to do, not trust you to use your own judgement, and/or lie to you about whether you have to answer these questions.”

    It also sends an extremely bad message to the students to punish a teacher for informing them of their legal rights. Let’s say that the school had a lot of credibility before in terms of being seen as putting the student’s welfare first. They just punished a teacher for telling students their legal rights. Now, given that the people you’re trying to help are worried about admitting to committing a crime, I’d have to say that the school’s credibility is probably now completely gone.

    So, maybe the school’s intentions were good. But they are demonstrating a complete lack of trust in the people they are reaching out to, as well as treating them as irresponsible kids that need to be told what to do. Not a good way to reach out.

  • TCC

    CaitieCat@17: Closer to the latter. We’re not implementing anything at the moment – school’s been out since last week – but we’ve been preparing for implementation of a tool to help assess social/emotional needs next school year. (Out of curiosity, was it my use of “presently” that made you ask?)

    eric@21: I have no disagreement with saying that the school majorly messed up here. My point in arguing some of the nuances of this situation (with the added bonus of having been closely involved with how my school has implemented RtI) is that I don’t think that this is merely a case of a school district punishing a teacher who ruined their little method of getting incriminating evidence on students. That could be true, but I think that a more charitable (but only slightly less damning) interpretation of the events is that the school administration saw Dryden’s actions as undercutting a tool for a state-mandated program and thus an act of insubordination, in essence (although I haven’t seen anything that spells it out that clearly in statements from the school or district). Either way, the school’s credibility is definitely damaged, and that damage will only be mitigated if they remove the letter of remedy from Dryden’s file, apologize for the situation, and make other means available to determine which students need to be targeted for social-emotional intervention.

    • CaitieCat

      TCC @ 22: Yes, it was the use of “presently”. I’ve only ever known it to be used as “we’ll be starting this very soon”, whereas it looked very much to me like you’re using it to mean “we’re already doing it now,” so i was confused, and wondering if it were a NAm/UK split. :)

  • Shplane, Spess Alium

    It absolutely one fucking trillion percent does not matter what the school intended to use the surveys for, or whether those surveys might be subverted or any other bullshit being stated in this thread. This man informed these students of their legal rights. That is an unequivocally good thing to do. That is not bad, ever, and if these weren’t kids absolutely fucking no one who regularly comments on this blog would be arguing otherwise. I guess if you’re under eighteen you shouldn’t get a fucking Miranda warning, either?

    Ageism is bullshit and you should all fucking stop it.

  • marcus

    @24 You are absolutely correct. My ‘splaining of why it is a bad idea for a person to surrender their personal information to a state entity glossed over the fact that there is no ‘splaining necessary. It is everybody’s right not to do so. It really is that simple.

  • Geds

    brucegee1962 @4: There isn’t enough information in the article to tell who was in the right here. We don’t really know anything about what guarantees the school was providing to the students about privacy, legal liability, etc.

    I ran across this yesterday and the thing that struck me was that the school didn’t seem to to a very good job of preparing the teachers for the survey. Dryden just got the surveys at the beginning of the school day and didn’t really know what the format was going to be until he read them.

    That tells me that the district was more in the wrong than the teacher no matter the case. A survey like that should have been vetted and the teachers should have been told what they were putting in front of the students in order to raise their objections beforehand. At that point if Dryden had been on record saying it was a bad idea he then could have pointed out the fact that he objected and was overruled but being overruled didn’t change the students’ Constitutional rights. At the very least it would have given him a stronger case.

  • Geds

    Erm, follow up: and he could have actually asked what they were intending to do with the information…