School Board Orders Teacher to Refrain From Sarcasm, Flippancy, and Discussion of Civil Liberties



John Dryden, the Illinois high school teacher who got into trouble for telling his students they did not have to answer questions about their drug and alcohol use on survey forms labeled with their names, has been told he'd better watch what he says from now on. Dryden, who has worked at Batavia High School in surburban Chicago for 20 years, was suspended for a day without pay and reprimanded because he informed students about their Fifth Amendment rights in connection with the school-sponsored survey. The Chicago Tribune reports that the school board recently instructed him that he must not make "flippant" or sarcastic remarks, provide "legal advice," or "mischaracterize" or "discredit" any district initiative. In an emailed response, Dryden complained that the requirements are "demeaning, vague, overly broad and constructed to entrap me in a future infraction for the purpose of termination." He also defended his warning about the survey:

This un-vetted survey was and is a massive invasion of privacy and students do have a Fifth Amendment right not to give to a state institution any information that might incriminate them regardless of the intentions of that institution….The administration has argued that they intended to do the right thing and that we should have simply trusted them to act responsibly with the information provided by students.

School officials really did argue that their good intentions would magically insulate students from any legal peril. As the Tribune puts it, "District officials said that Dryden misrepresented the survey, which they said was meant to target students in need of social or emotional help and wasn't intended to penalize students who admitted to drug or alcohol use."