Batavia high school students have 5th amendment protections too

Despite what the Batavia (Illinois) school board says, the students in teacher John Dryden's class and throughout the high school are not required to incriminate themselves by filling out a drug or alcohol self-disclosure form.

As the Chicago Tribune reported:

Dryden, a social studies teacher at Batavia High School, was hailed by some as a protector of constitutional rights after he told students that the Fifth Amendment gave them the right not to fill out a school survey that asked questions about drug and alcohol use. The survey had students' names printed on top.

Now the school board has officially reprimanded Dryden, and suspended him for one day without pay.

John Dryden

John Dryden

If anyone should be blamed for this incident, it is the bureaucratic, teacher-college-educated minds that came up with this survey. Here a government institution was asking students whether they had problems using drugs or alcohol. The students' names were printed on at the top of the survey.

The Constitution's 5th amendment against self-incrimination prohibits government from requring that any "person" from bearing witness against himself. The 14th Amendment applied that and other civil rights protections to states, and public school districts are a child of state government. Ergo, Dryden is right.

The school board, supporting the administrators, reasoned that this gross violation was okay because the survey was "well-intentioned." By telling students that they didn't have to take the survey, the board said students who may have needed help with these problems were denied that chance.

Obviously, that's wrong. Students can be reminded through the various and many forms of school communication that help is available. Skilled educators should know how to do this.

Dryden appears to have had a number of disagreements with the school administration and probably is something a pain in the neck. But whatever you might think of him, he's exactly right on this on.

Here's hoping that the school will learn a lesson from this incident, as the backlash to its action grows. Certainly, the students have learned a good civics lesson.

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