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Batavia teacher John Dryden: ‘I know how to read the Constitution’

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 14, 2013 6:33 a.m. CDT
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(Photo provided)
Batavia High School social studies teacher John Dryden

BATAVIA – Batavia High School social studies teacher John Dryden argued that he was in the right when he instructed his students they had the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves before answering an in-class survey about emotional and at-risk behavior.

The Batavia School District 101 board last month voted to issue a written warning of improper conduct to Dryden for his actions. Board member Jon Gaspar was the sole board member to vote “no.” The notice warned Dryden not to provide legal advice to students, among other things. The Kane County Chronicle obtained Dryden’s reply to the notice through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“I am not a lawyer, but as a social studies teacher with 20 years experience, I know how to read the Constitution,” Dryden said in his reply to the notice. “This unvetted survey was and is a massive invasion of privacy, and students do have a Fifth Amendment right not to provide a state institution any information that might incriminate them, regardless of the intentions of that institution.”

Before the board issued the notice, Batavia Superintendent Jack Barshinger docked Dryden a day’s pay. Dryden said his actions represented “a teachable moment.”

“Reminding my students they had a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves and asking them to think hard about how they answered questions on a survey on which they were identified and required to answer questions about whether they participated in criminal activity was neither inappropriate nor unprofessional,” Dryden stated in his reply. “Administering such a survey under the conditions this survey was administered was both unprofessional and inappropriate, and it compromised all of the community’s stakeholders. I sincerely hope we do a better job of it next time.”

Brad Newkirk, the district’s chief academic officer, said the district didn’t have a response to Dryden’s statement. Barshinger had previously said that students can’t incriminate themselves.

“The information is protected by the Illinois and federal student records act,” Barshinger had said. “We won’t give it to law enforcement. That was never the intent.”

Barshinger had said students’ names were put on the surveys to help identify those students who need help. All high school students were given a 34-question survey April 18 during their third-block classes that would evaluate their social-emotional perceptions.

“We wanted to be able to provide interactions to students who needed it,” Barshinger had said.

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