John Dryden: Illinois Teacher Right to Warn Students About Drug Survey

Back in 1999 when my wife and I taught at a public high school in North Carolina, she came across an opportunity to put into action material she had just taught. Fresh from teaching a unit on the Bill of Rights, she wandered through the administrative office area of our school one day and noticed a meeting between the vice principal, the school’s resource police officer, and one of her students. Without hesitation, she took full advantage of what teachers refer to as a teachable moment by ducking her head into the office and reminding her student that he had a constitutional right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment. For her efforts, my wife received a sneer from the police officer and nothing more was made of the matter.

Let’s fast forward to 2013 and the tale of another public school teacher taking advantage of the same exact teachable moment. A short while after teaching a unit on the Bill of Rights, John Dryden, a social studies teacher at Batavia High School in Illinois, picked up a stack of surveys from the school office for his students to complete. Noticing that his students’ names were on the surveys and the surveys had questions asking about drug and alcohol usage, he reminded his students that they had the right to not incriminate themselves guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.   

For his admonition, Dryden was docked a day’s pay, charged with “unprofessional conduct”, and had a letter of remedy outlining probationary actions he must complete placed in his file.

What a difference 14 years can make.  

The above illustrates just how perverted the public school system in America has become.  Whether you are a teacher or a student, if you deviate from the Establishment order, you will pay a heavy price. This includes arresting 12-year-olds for doodling on desks and suspending 7-year-olds for biting Pop Tarts into the shape of a gun.

In handing down the punishment on Dryden, the school board president Cathy Dremel indicated that he “mischaracterized” the intentions of school administrators with regards to the survey. According to Dremel, the intention was not to invade the privacy of students but to focus attention on specific student needs.

Unfortunately, that focus was on actions (drug and alcohol usage) that are illegal and whether school officials and resource police officers like to admit it or not, they are a part of the government apparatus charged with making sure the law is adhered to in the public schools. Thus, there is no guarantee that a student answering in the affirmative to illegal drug usage would not be charged with a crime. 

Now, it could be argued that school officials at Batavia High School would have no way to address student needs without the cooperation of teachers and students on the survey.  Many kids could be lost to drug addiction or worst. 

But, the current circumstances, not the Bill of Rights, impede a school’s ability to do that. If school officials want to truly help students with these types of problems they should push for ending the war on drugs. Then we can treat drug abuse not as a criminal matter but like the medical issue that it is. Then, students could answer questions frankly and potentially receive the help they need.

At the end of the day, all Americans enjoy the right to not incriminate themselves guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Public school officials should not be allowed to ignore this right or punish those who teach it.

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Kenn Jacobine

Kenn Jacobine is an international educator currently teaching History and Economics for the American School of Doha, Qatar. He has also taught in the United States and at international schools in Ecuador, Mali, and Zambia.

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