Ah, the public schools:
A Batavia High School teacher’s fans are rallying to support him as he faces possible discipline for advising students of their Constitutional rights before taking a school survey on their behavior.
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.
Students and parents have praised his ability to interest reluctant students in history and current affairs.
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.
The school is considering a “letter of remedy”. This has the potential to result in any level of discipline, up to firing.
The school’s position, which is not completely unreasonable, is that this survey was not going to be shared with police but was going to be used to identify students with problems and Dryden may have interfered with students getting some needed counseling. Dryden’s position, however, is that writing your name on a piece of paper and saying you’ve used drugs or alcohol is just asking for legal trouble. Is it really that hard to imagine the path from “we’ll give you help if you want it” to “you’re going to get help, wether you want it or not” to “enjoy juvie, sucker”? And is not that unreasonable for a social studies teacher to use this an example of what the Fifth Amendment means?
This does seem like bit of an over-reaction by the school. There’s a part of me that wonders if the school’s problem isn’t so much that he interfered with the survey but that he taught them a lesson in their Fifth Amendment rights. School administrators love things like locker searches, drug tests and student searches. They have routinely chafed against the very modest legal requirement of “reasonable suspicion”. Politicians and “educators” at all levels aren’t terrifically fond of any of our liberties really (James Taranto recently wrote about his experiences with censorship in college).
If you teach student to exercise their fifth amendment rights, they might start escalating to thinking about their fourth and first amendement rights as well. They might even start wondering about — the horror — their second amendment rights! And we can’t have that.
(In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, check out the picture of Dryden at the linked article and tell me he doesn’t look like the Dude.)