Join us for an informative and educational evening! Details below:
CAC Constitution Week Forum Monday September 16th at 6:30 pm at the Center
To commemorate Constitution Day, Celebrate First Amendment Freedoms, and Inspire Civic Participation!
Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. Celebrating Constitution Day provides an opportunity for the public to remember the importance of a document held in esteem worldwide for empowering “We the People” with the rights and responsibilities to engage in the democratic process. The First Amendment Freedoms, (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to petition our government, freedom to assemble, and freedom of religion) are essential components that ensure a healthy democracy and the capacity to hold government accountable.
“Constitution Week recognizes the importance of our founding document by introducing students and adults to constitutional issues through dynamic speakers with first-hand knowledge of what it means to fight for
freedom. Ms. Hayes’ experiences illustrate the tensions in our democracy while sharing a remarkable journey in
First Amendment advocacy, ” said Maryam Judar, community lawyer at the Citizen Advocacy Center.
In collaboration with area high schools, and made possible with support from the McCormick Foundation, the focus of this year’s Constitution Week is the constitutional right to peaceful assembly in protesting government activity. As with previous Constitution Week speakers, the Citizen Advocacy Center is highlighting the importance of a robust legal infrastructure for public participation and is not endorsing any particular position on the specific issues Ms. Hayes is passionate about.
Ms. Hayes is a youth organizer who has participated in several community organizing initiatives. These include planning of the Chicago NATO protest in the Spring of 2012; Chicago Occupy Protests; and opposition to the City of Chicago’s ordinance curtailing First Amendment rights, dubbed by the press as the “Sit Down and Shut Up Ordinance.” She is also a Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) trainer. Her advocacy has focused on combating austerity measures by government as well as advocating for social justice issues. She is presently involved in the battle for public education in Chicago and in the creation of a city wide series of NVDA trainings for student activists.
While in the western suburbs, Ms. Hayes will speak to hundreds of high school students, including those at York High School in Elmhurst and Glenbard South in Glen Ellyn, about utilizing her First Amendment freedoms to peaceably assemble and petition the government. Students will hear her first-hand accounts and have the opportunity to ask questions. Community lawyer Maryam Judar will accompany Ms. Hayes to provide the constitutional context for her participation in the government decision making process.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a non-profit, non-partisan community based legal organization dedicated to building democracy for the 21st Century by increasing the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. The Citizen Advocacy Center is funded entirely through contributions from individuals and foundations. We do not accept corporate or government funding. This allows us to maintain our independence and provide unbiased advice, analysis, and commentary.
**This blog post was written by a non-legal intern and should not serve as legal advice. If one is seeking legal advice they should consult a practicing attorney**
John Dryden, a Social Studies teacher at Batavia High School, has found himself on thin ice after teaching his students their Constitutional rights against self-incrimination.
Batavia High School asked teachers to circulate a survey to students with questions about drug and alcohol use. After noticing his students’ names were printed on a survey Dryden instructed his students that the Fifth Amendment gave them rights to refuse to fill it out. Word started to circulate around the school that Dryden informed students of their option not to fill out the survey. Students rallied around Dryden’s actions and the media reported on the event. For Dryden, the school board deemed his conduct “unprofessional” and he was issued a one day suspension without pay with a “notice to remedy” letter on his file.
Dryden argued that the student drug and alcohol survey put the students in danger of self-incrimination. He said it was “dumb luck” that he even noticed the names of the students printed on the surveys a mere ten minutes before class started. “I made a judgment call. There was no time to ask anyone,” as reported in the Daily Herald. When asked about what he would do if the situation arose again, Dryden said he would make the same decision.
The board claimed the survey was solely to test students’ social and emotional health and that it was meant to be a “screener” so that students who may pose a risk to themselves or others could get help from social workers or other available assistance. The board claimed that the survey would stay in a “temporary file” and would not be used to incriminate students.
According to news reports, the school provided a memo for the teachers, but the memo did not address whether the survey was mandatory and the teachers also received advance notice that such surveys would be given out, however, the memo never disclosed that students’ names would be on them. This was the first year that the school district chose to have surveys with names.
The school board also sent out an email to parents stating that students did not have to take the survey as long as they notified the district at a predetermined deadline. However, the email was not sent directly to students, so the only time they could refuse to take the survey was the time it was handed out.
Considering all the issues playing out in the current NSA government spying regarding aggregate data, the school board should have acted professionally rather than accusing Dryden, especially after all the debate about temporary files, stored files, permission to keep files on individuals. Instead of being taught about the opportunities for assistance the school has to offer, the school seemed to feel they could just target students and force them to use these programs. High school students have the responsibilities and access of adults and yet in instances like this are treated as children. It’s ironic that high school students read 1984 as a part of their school curriculum but are prevented from making privacy-related judgment calls for themselves.
Another issue is that the school assumed that students would tell the truth with their names plastered on the survey. I do not believe that any high school student would be dumb enough to willingly admit to involvement in any illicit activities.
In my opinion as a student, it seems that our rights are minimal at school. Only sending the email to parents notifying them of the survey not only cuts out all those parents who don’t use email, it incorrectly implies that guardians of citizens under the age of 18 can make decisions about Fifth Amendment rights.
Dryden took the extra step. He taught the students how to apply their rights to a situation first-hand, a lesson they would remember, instead of making them read a dry textbook to memorize facts that would be soon forgotten. Not many teachers are willing to take the risk to protect their students. What does it say that the ones that do get punished for their bravery.
I applaud Dryden for what he did because, honestly, it’s not easy to find an adult who takes high school students seriously. It’s surprising to find a teacher who believes that our privacy is also worth a fight, and the fact that Dryden is still fighting for our rights, even with the threats to his career, is honorable.
2013 High School Summer Intern
Maryam Judar, Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center
Elementary & Secondary Education Committee
Testimony in support of H.B. 2428
March 6, 2013
The Citizen Advocacy Center submits this letter to the Elementary & Secondary Education Committee in support of the Task Force on Civic Education described in H.B. 2428.
The Citizen Advocacy Center (Center) is an award winning, non-profit, non-partisan, community-based, legal organization. Its mission is to “Build Democracy for the 21st Century.” Since 1994, community lawyers have worked to build democracy by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. The Center motivates individuals and community groups to seek systemic solutions to issues of public concern and works to improve democratic protocols in local and state government to ensure optimal public participation in the democratic process.
The Center believes that a healthy democracy relies on a balance between government accessibility, accountability, and transparency on one side and citizen participation that is informed, active, effective, and sustained on the other. A democracy is only as strong as its participants. Many of the concerned community members throughout Illinois who contact the Center for assistance have little idea how to navigate the government decision-making process, or even to identify the appropriate government body that is key in solving a problem of public concern.
Thus, an integral component of our work is civic education. The Civic Empowerment Zone is the Center’s youth civic education program and provides resources to fill the gap in civic education at our public schools and promotes the idea that civic education is a learned skill. Just like other subjects such as reading, math, art, and science, civic skills must be practiced regularly in order to develop proficiency and confidence.
The task is enormous. While some schools shine in imparting civic education to their entire student bodies, most have relegated few resources to social studies and civics in order to meet national standards in other subjects. Through our work with schools in the collar counties and suburban Cook County, the Center has learned that our school districts, school administrators, and teachers are ill equipped and without solid legislative direction to implement stronger civic education programs in their schools. In light of Illinois’ recent adoption of the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts & Literacy in History/ Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects, the time to evaluate what is the status of civic education in Illinois through a Task Force on Civic Education is now.
In Jim Slusher’s “Voting is ‘Plan Only,’ and we have duty to help,” he quotes a reader who says the “solution (to problems in local government) is greater citizen involvement to enhance public accountability.” Slusher and the reader draw the legitimate conclusion that our eligible voting population is not using its power to hold local officials accountable.
While voters surely hold this power, there are more direct mechanisms to holding local officials accountable while they conduct our governments’ business, and that is through monitoring local government activities. Of course, if people perceive they lack time, or treat their civic duty as a low priority, they will not utilize this method. In fact, according to the 2010 Illinois Civic Health Index, less than 10 percent of state residents had attended a public meeting of one of their local governments in the preceding year.
The problem is straightforward, and it’s dire: Illinois fails to educate its youth in civics. Without a civically educated public, fewer involve themselves in using the political process to help prioritize and solve the problems they’ve identified as pressing concerns in their communities. The ultimate result is a crisis of legitimacy. People don’t believe that the political system represents their interests, and yet they lack the confidence and skills to exercise their crucial role as responsible, civic-minded individuals to shape the political system to reflect a government we want, rather than one imposed upon us.
How can we increase civic participation, whether through voting or through monitoring, in Illinois? We all need to clamor for legislative and financial support for stronger civic education curriculums at all our public schools so our state’s future residents will be poised to help solve the pressing problems our state faces.
Citizen Advocacy Center