Drug Law

Teachers Suspended; Screened MPP-Funded Constitutional Rights Film

| by Marijuana Policy Project

By Mike Meno

Two high-school teachers in Norfolk, Virginia have been placed on paid administrative leave because a parent objected to them handing out a one-page flier and showing a film, both about constitutional rights, to a 12th grade government class.

The handout, “When Dealing With Police …”, tells students what to do if they get stopped by police officers, if they see someone stopped by police officers, or if they get arrested (example: “Ask, ‘AM I FREE TO GO?’ If not, you are being detained. If yes, walk away.”)

And the film, “Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters,” should be familiar to many readers of this blog. It was produced a few years back by Flex Your Rights, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes education on constitutional rights in police situations and recently put out another film, “10 Rules for Dealing With Police,” to more than respectable reviews. Both films received funding from MPP.

Anyone who has ever watched “Busted” knows it’s an entertaining presentation of Constitutional Rights 101. Featuring commentary from Ira Glasser, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union, the film depicts people in everyday police encounters and explains to viewers what rights they have at every step along the way. It’s been endorsed by Nobel Prize Winner Milton Friedman and former ACLU president Nadine Strossen, among others.

Not exactly the kind of product that should lead to teachers being removed from the classroom.

The parent who made the initial complaint (and courageously chooses to remain anonymous) told the Virginian Pilot that her daughter came home after viewing the materials, and said, “You won’t believe what we are learning in Government. They are teaching us how to hide our drugs.” I’d be curious to know if the parent even bothered to watch the film or read the flier herself before filing the complaint. Obviously her daughter missed the point, and now, unfortunately, her teachers aren’t there to explain it to her.

Here’s what Steve Silverman, the executive director of Flex Your Rights, had to say about the ordeal:

“It’s certainly disturbing that civics teachers are being punished for teaching students about how constitutional protections apply during police encounters. The Bill of Rights is not some abstract concept that ought to be forgotten after finals, nor is it a trick designed to protect evil-doers.

The Bill of Rights was deliberately designed by the Founders to protect the innocent against abuses by government power. The fact that some lawbreakers might use constitutional protections to avoid punishment is a poor excuse for abetting constitutional illiteracy.

Flex Your Rights materials embody this principle. Our videos are regularly screened in hundreds of college and high school classrooms and embraced by an array of professional and civic groups – including police instructors, lawyers and concerned parents. Never to my knowledge has any institution taken such measures against educators using our materials.”

I just hope the student whose parent complained never finds herself in an unfortunate encounter with police. She’ll probably wish she paid more attention to what her teachers had to say.