Teacher Disciplined for Telling Kids about Fifth Amendment

Teacher Disciplined for Telling Kids about Fifth Amendment
May 31, 2013

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org) is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

From the growing annals of school-led privacy invasions of minors comes this story from a Chicago suburb:

[John] Dryden, who has taught for 20 years at the Kane County school, ran into trouble in April after he told students that the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination applied to a school survey he was handing out. The one-page questionnaire had students' names printed on top, followed by 34 personal questions.

The survey on students' "emotional well-being" had students identify themselves and answer questions about their drug and alcohol use. Parents were only given a two-paragraph summary of the survey and not told it would contain student names.

"I looked at the questions and went, 'Oh my gosh,'" he said. "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?"

In response to Dryden's warning to students, the school suspended him for one day without pay. On Tuesday, when the Batavia Public School District 101 board voted to reprimand Dryden, students, parents and other teachers showed up at the meeting 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.

Surveys like this are common in public schools. I've recently seen copies of a similar survey that has been used in Wisconsin schools for decades. It asks students lots of personal questions, all things that would be fair game for private counseling: How do you feel about your parents? Are you sexually active? What are your moods like?, etc. Yesterday, Michelle Malkin publicized three Florida schools that scanned kids' eyes without telling parents.

Two comments about this. First: Schools are collecting personal, emotional information about students because their role has grown beyond basic knowledge impartation to society’s social workers and proxy parents. They can't get kids to read, but maybe their luck with drug prevention will be better. Second: Not many people know, but federal privacy protections for student data have been virtually erased. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education rewrote federal privacy law to say it or any agency such as a school or the Department of Labor may share whatever is in kids' files without parental knowledge or consent. Oh, and states are creating interoperable student databases that directly channel student files to the feds. So while the Batavia school board may feel they can be benevolently trusted to protect kids who incriminate themselves, the rules encircling them do not.

[First published at Ricochet]

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org) is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)