Batavia Teacher Disciplined for Teaching Constitution

What does it say about the Batavia School District when a teacher receives suspension and formal reprimand for teaching students their rights under the Constitution?

Batavia made national news when Batavia High School social studies teacher John Dryden was disciplined for telling 3 classes that they had the right to not incriminate themselves by answering questions on a survey that dealt with personal, and potentially criminal, behavior. According to the Chicago Tribune 5/30/13:

“Apparently, I struck a nerve,” said Dryden, who had taught about the Bill of Rights weeks before being asked to hand out the survey on emotional well-being, which included questions on drug and alcohol use….

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.

School officials said the survey was intended to identify teens who might pose a risk to themselves and was prompted by a rash of suicides.

But Dryden said teachers and parents received only a two-paragraph description of the survey in advance, and it did not warn them that it would include students’ names. He first saw the survey about 10 minutes before his first class that day, he said.

“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?”

For that, Mr. Dryden was suspended for 1 day without pay and formally reprimanded:

After two hours of closed-door discussion, the board voted Tuesday to put an official “letter of  remedy” in Dryden’s file for what was termed “improper conduct.” Newly elected member Jon Gaspar was the sole “no” vote.

The letter outlines changes Dryden must make in his job or face more consequences. Barshinger declined to say what the letter required Dryden to do.

A Batavia resident who stayed till the board meeting ended around 11:30pm said that when Superintendent Barshinger was asked by a reporter what Dryden must do, Barshinger not only declined to answer, but he told the reporter to file a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to find out. So, let’s get this straight; according to Superintendent Barshinger, students were required to fill out surveys with their names on them that deal with private, personal information, but when asked by a newspaper reporter for a copy of said survey (Daily Herald 5/25/13), school officials refused, saying the survey was “proprietary business information”, and when asked what the board decided in their closed session, Barshinger says to go file a FOIA request!? Why the double standard? Students have to answer questions, but school officials don’t? School district employees are paid with tax dollars, school board members are elected by taxpayers, and this survey was paid for by taxpayers (how much $$$?), yet the very people to whom the school board and staff are accountable are being denied details?

Mr. Barshinger issued a statement defending his and the board’s actions that can be summed up as:  the bad teacher messed up the year-long efforts of staff members to spend money on a survey because he chose to teach students about the Constitution, er, sorry, to  “mischaracterize the efforts…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.” From media interviews with Mr. Dryden, it doesn’t sound like he was telling students that at all. And interestingly, the portrayal of this survey as solely something “for the children” sounds very different than the original letter to parents which says:

Why are we doing this? In addition to the Illinois Common Core Learning Standards, school districts are required to provide instruction and monitor student progress on the Illinois Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards (click here to view the standards).

What is this assessment? The Behavior Intervention Monitoring Assessment System (BIMAS) was chosen to be utilized to monitor student progress on the SEL standards. The BIMAS is designed to be used for screening, progress monitoring, outcome assessment, and program evaluation within the Response to Intervention (RTI) framework.

How will the results be utilized? Batavia High School will use the BIMAS to monitor students’ progress in the areas of social and emotional development. Results of the BIMAS will be analyzed at a building level to assist staff in planning and implementation of social emotional supports to help all students grow to their fullest potential. It is a systematic process of detecting students who are struggling behaviorally and are at- risk for experiencing a range of negative short- and long-term outcomes. If your child is found to be at risk and is not currently receiving social-emotional supports within the school, a member of the building’s Student Services Team will notify a parent to discuss options for support.

Funny, there is nothing mentioned about suicides in this letter….

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