BATAVIA – The Batavia School Board Tuesday voted to issue a written warning of improper conduct to Batavia High School social studies teacher John Dryden for warning his students not to incriminate themselves before answering an in-class survey about emotional and at-risk behavior.
"In this case, district teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists and others worked together for over a year to select a data-gathering instrument that could be used to determine what social or emotional issues our high school students are experiencing, and whether individual students could benefit from new or increased supportive intervention by our staff," Batavia School Superintendent Jack Barshinger said in a statement after a closed session to discuss the matter. "These purposes were shared with our parents and our teachers."
"The issue before the board 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."
Barshinger said the board "has asked my administration to take steps in the future to increase parental awareness and transparency when gathering data about sensitive issues such as mental health or substance abuse issues. When a plan of action is developed, we have agreed to share those details with our community."
Before the closed session, dozens of students, parents, teachers and community members spoke in support of Dryden.
“These kids need to know that the U.S. Constitution is there for them,” Batavia 2nd Ward Alderman Alan Wolff told Batavia School Board members.
Wolff spoke before school board members went into a closed session to discuss the matter. At press time, board members were still in the closed session.
Fellow Batavia High School teacher Scott Bayer also spoke in support of Dryden.
“He is able to break through student apathy like no other teacher I know,” Bayer said.
He said other teachers advised students in a similar manner about the survey.
“Every teacher I talked to addressed students in the same way,” he said.
Before the meeting, Dryden spoke about what happened.
“I advised my students that they had a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves,” Dryden said Tuesday. “It was not my intention for them not to take the survey.”
As a result of his actions, Dryden, who has taught at the high school for 20 years, said he was docked a day’s pay.
Parent Emily Farrell had said she was upset that students’ names were pre-printed on the surveys, which asked students whether they had used drugs or alcohol.
“That’s a complete invasion of personal information,” she said. “They were asking very personal questions.”
An online petition at www.thepetitionsite.com has garnered more than 7,000 signatures supporting Dryden’s actions.