The Fifth Amendment and a school’s drug use survey

This recent article on tells the story of John Dryden, an Illinois high school teacher who informed students of their Fifth Amendment rights before handing them a survey which contained questions about such things as drug and alcohol use. John saw the students’ names were on the surveys, and feared the worst. This follow-up story from the Kane County Chronicle indicates he was not the only teacher to do so; however, John was singled out by the school board for some reason, and his reward for this was a written warning of improper conduct, and he was docked one day’s pay.

To their credit, the school board’s side of this is that students are already protected from self-incrimination at school based on existing laws. Even if this is the case, this is knowledge that is sufficiently uncommon that at least one teacher didn’t know it. Given the number of students that are arrested at school these days, it’s really hard for me personally to fault John for looking out for his students, especially given that it was not immediately obvious to him that students could opt out.

What also stuck out is the pre-printing of students’ names on surveys with such personal questions. This presents two problems. First, the students that opt-out will have a blank form with their name on it hanging around. Second, it’s way too easy for either the filled-out forms or the blank forms with the students’ names on them to get in the wrong hands. The surveys should not be keyed on name at all, but on a student ID number which is only ever shared with the student, the parents, and the appropriate members of school staff, specifically for surveys such as this one. Student privacy should come first, not be an afterthought.

I hope word gets around to the other school districts, not just in Illinois, but across the US, about this survey as it was handled at this school. It is an example of something that needs to be highlighted as an example of what not to do.