May 28, 2013

Advising Students About Their Constitutional Rights? Careful, If You’re a Teacher, You May Just Lose Your Job.

“The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.” ~ Albert Einstein

It was just another ordinary school day for Batavia High School teacher, John Dryden. As he sipped his coffee, and sifted through the stack of papers sitting inside of his teacher ‘mailbox’—he noticed something that left him feeling rather unsettled.

For you see, nestled within the standard school mailings there was a stack of surveys to be administered to his students. The surveys were developed by school administrators, and were designed to help better understand a student’s risk for self-harm and suicide. The results would be later reviewed by school counselors and psychologists.

And though, their intention, I am sure was quite perfectly sound—their execution left little to be desired.

The surveys were prominently stamped with each of the student’s names, and the questions targeted their drug and alcohol use, among other things.

Dryden, who had just completed teaching his students a unit on the Bill of Rights, felt compelled to offer his insight—as he felt these survey questions might be potentially self-incriminating.

With just 10 minutes remaining until the start of class—and no time to confer with administrators—Dryden made a split-second ‘judgement call,’ explaining to the students that “they did not have to complete the forms if doing so involved admitting illegal behavior.”

In other words, he apprised these students of their Fifth Amendment Rights.

And, now? He is facing disciplinary action for ‘unprofessional conduct’ with penalties leading up to and including his dismissal.

Students and parents, who were understandably outraged, had this to say;

“Recently, Mr. Dryden was disciplined by Batavia High School’s administration for unprofessional conduct and we believe this to be an unjustified action. It is Mr. Dryden’s task as an educator to impart his students with the knowledge and ability to make informed choices, even if these lead to conscientious objection.”

So, basically—if I am to understand correctly—this teacher is being disciplined for educating his students?

I’m confused. Since when is it wrong to talk about what’s right?

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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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