St. Charles and the people who ignore basic freedoms (5×8 – 6/5/12)

A lesson in constitutional ignorance, Claire’s graduation, don’t mess with Mr. Zero, Williston residents losing their city and homes to oil, and dealing with it.


The seniors at St. Charles High School graduated on Sunday, apparently without ever being taught about the U.S. Constitution. How could they have been, considering the educators required them to take breathalyzer tests before getting their diplomas? A parent told WCCO as soon as he heard from his son that he was tested at school, he drove there to instruct the educators on probable cause. It didn’t work.

Students say they were called in the gym Friday morning and were told that they would be given the breathalyzer or they would not participate in commencement, KDSK reported.

“It felt like we had to go along with it,” student Carter Swenson told the station. “I’ve been told that if you’re 18 you can reject the breathalyzer, and we’re all 18, so I had no idea you can do that, so I went in there and took it, but I felt like it was forced.”

It felt forced? Why do you think that is, kid?

Not one teacher — a history or civics teacher, perhaps — stood up to point out the obvious? (forehead slap)

Perhaps if they go on to college, the students will find out about the importance of the Constitution.

Related: The University of Montana has backed away from a plan to require those attending a fundraising ball to take a breathalyzer test.

In Westborough, Massachusetts, school administrators dropped a plan to test students suspected of drug/alcohol use after a public outcry.


Students who took Lynden Dorval’s physics and science classes at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton knew that if they didn’t hand in an assignment, there would be consequences: a mark of zero. A week and a half ago, the school board suspended him for unprofessional behavior and for “negatively impacting student achievement,” the Globe and Mail says.

No-fail grading policies (which have been tried, and abandoned, in many other places) arose from the same self-esteem movement that brought us prizes for all. The idea is that kids who feel good about themselves will succeed. The problem is that they will eventually encounter the real world, where self-esteem won’t get you far if you don’t show up or do the work. Politicians and school boards also like no-fail policies because they are desperate to improve graduation rates. That’s a real problem in Edmonton, where young men have a habit of dropping out to take lucrative jobs in the oil patch. Edmonton’s education superintendent has boasted that his goal is to increase graduation rates to 100 per cent.

CBC’s As it Happens talked to him the other evening and he’s become a big hero among the “get tough with kids” crowd. But other educators say what he’s doing doesn’t help anything because “zeroes” don’t motivate students, it makes them shut down and give up.


Claire Frick got her diploma. The Roseville Area High School senior was diagnosed with a deadly childhood cancer at 16, and on Valentine’s Day this year, she found out the cancer had spread to her brain and there was nothing more that could be done. She died in March, just a few days after the Pioneer Press chronicled the struggle.

But she had accumulated enough credits to graduate and on Friday, she did.

Find the moment at the 55:47 mark at this video from CTV North Suburbs.

We did not know at the time of her death that she had been given her diploma shortly before she died.

(h/t: Jim Hartmann)


Who’s getting steamrolled by the big business of the oil boom in North Dakota? The usual suspects. In Williston, the Fargo Forum reports, about 30 people, including families with single moms and people on fixed incomes, have been evicted from their apartments. The building was sold to an oil company. One single mom found some housing — four hours away in Montana — and commutes back to Williston each day to run her cleaning business.


When the floods come and the times are tough, we’re given few choices: Deal with it or don’t deal with it. This film about the 2011 floods in Thailand is showing people who dealt with it.

Bonus: You know, of course, I’d be interested in today’s Pioneer Press write-up about the big airshow in Mankato this weekend and the flight one of its reporters took with a performer. I doubt the reporter knew that the plane/pilot used as a backdrop on the piece was actually the most famous aerobatic pilot in the business. This guy:


Recent medical studies have cast doubt on long-held ideas about health – namely that salt causes hypertension and that lots of exercise is good for us. Today’s Question: At times of shifting opinions about health, how do you decide whose advice to follow?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: President Obama’s evolution as commander in chief.

Second hour: Why your 20s matter.

Third hour: Musician Chris Koza.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): On the 65th anniversary of The Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, a speech by historian Mark Stoler about George C. Marshall.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Who needs a labor union?

Second hour: Blues legend Buddy Guy.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Many people say the constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall that would define marriage is a bigger factor motivating them to vote than the presidential election. This includes people on both sides of the issue, and groups on both sides hope to use the passion around the issue to decide the issue. MPR’s Catharine Richert will have the story.

Four years ago, a young, athletic Wall Street banker invested in a bicycle. Evelyn Stevens was a rookie cyclist, but not for long. She quit her day job, became a national cycling champion, and is now on the U.S. Olympic team. NPR provides a profile.

  • MikeB

    School administrators – all that time and all that unchecked power. As News Cut noted, if you don’t teach the constitution you don’t have to deal with those sniveling kids asserting their rights.

    A failure of leadership all around in St Charles.

  • Sam

    Bob, you note that no teacher at the St. Charles school stood up to object to the mandatory breathalyzer, but we don’t actually know that – we only know that no administrator decided to stop it. There’s a good chance that at least one teacher did object, quietly, behind the scenes, and was ignored. There’s an even better chance that a lot more teachers would have objected, but were afraid for their jobs.

    The current wave of anti-union sentiment has brought with it an extremely heavy-handed management style that is being applied broadly at companies, schools, etc. where some portion of the employee base is unionized. Intimidation and capricious disciplinary action are again becoming part of the standard management playbook, and unionized employees are reminded at every turn that a) the employer considers them the enemy, and b) their union cannot save them from being instantly fired if they publicly stray from the employer’s party line. If I were a teacher at St. Charles, I doubt I would have had the courage to speak out, either.

  • BJ
  • Bob Collins

    // you note that no teacher at the St. Charles school stood up to object to the mandatory breathalyzer, but we don’t actually know that

    That’s not true. I asked the question.

    // If I were a teacher at St. Charles, I doubt I would have had the courage to speak out, either.

    Well, that’s really the thing, isn’t it? You know, every time there’s a patriotic holiday, we trot out the flags, and salute the troops for defending our freedom (which is true) and we say all the right things, as if there’s only one way the nation’s freedoms are preserved — on a battle field somewhere.

    Then there’s an assault — and that’s what this is — on those freedoms and we don’t have the courage to say anything about it because we’re afraid we might lose our jobs, or we stand out from the community or we adopt an unpopular position.

    So the question we really need to ask ourselves is whether this is sort of thing — the rights embraced by the constitution — are important to us enough to do something more than shoot off fireworks, display a flag, and sing a country music song as loudly as we can. Or whether we’re just interested in putting on a show?

    So this is as much about us as it is them.

    If you’re a teacher that looks the other way when the rights of individuals are stripped away? I say you may not be a very good teacher, and you’re certainly not a courageous one.

  • Bob Collins

    // #1 – I’m sure they where thinking of ‘bong hits 4 Jesus’ ruling.

    That would be an unfortunate gymnastic endeavor to justify their actions.

    There’s no question that schools have the right to ignore the First Amendment in some matters — school newspapers have tested this several times.

    But that’s not what this is. This is closer to those random mandatory stops that cops made in the 90s to catch drunk drivers. The courts ruled — correctly — that you can’t do that.

    Your suspicion without probable cause isn’t a justification. And your probable cause against SOMEONE ELSE doesn’t give you probable cause against me.

    To me, that’s the frightening part of this: These are such basic concepts that the fact educators don’t recognize them as such — let alone that they give a rip about defending them — along with the willing participation of the DNR and the State Patrol — is beyond chilling.

  • BenCh

    I saw the news report on the St. Charles incident last night. What gets me is it wasn’t just a couple of police there- it was police, sheriff, and even DNR officers. What a waste of resources for something like this.

  • Conner

    This discussion about the fear of standing up to your employers is a good one. I feel like this recession has really gotten us to the point where employees no longer have the guts to stand up to their employer out of fear of losing their job. Employees have begun letting their employers trample their rights, and in this case the rights of the students because speaking up might cost them their job. Until the 99% decides they control their own destiny we’ll be subject to the 1%* being the all powerful job creators.

    *Yes, this is simplified, the administrators aren’t the 1%, but that doesn’t sound as good on a billboard.

  • Greg W

    // Or whether we’re just interested in putting on a show?

    I think it’s all about the show. The message is more important than the meaning.

    To a lot of people, it is more important to show how patriotic you are by pasting a vehicle with flag stickers and wearing t-shirts with the flag printed on it than understanding the rules and regulations regarding its display and usage.

  • Bob Collins

    // it was police, sheriff, and even DNR officers.

    All people who should know better, and who should be *required* to know better.

  • Brad Benson

    Playing devils advocate for a moment…

    How is requiring a breathalyzer test a violation of the constitution (I’m assuming you’re referring to the 4th amendment). Does failing to take this test prevent a student from actually graduating?

    What if a student appeared to be intoxicated at the event? Would administering the test at that point then be acceptable?

  • SomeGuy

    ” it was police, sheriff, and even DNR officers”

    How could this be? All we ever hear about it that their budgets don’t permit anything but the enforcement of the most dangerous crimes. Of course, we all know this is all B.S. The reality is that the police would prefer everything, except their own actions, be illegal and they be appointed the judge, jury, and executioner.

    So I’m not suprised at this sort of thing happening. As for the show of patriotism, I thought that was practically a universal law of faking. Doesn’t anyone remember the support out troops bumper magnet crowd? In my experience they were more often than not the same people that said it was unpatriotic to question the president.

    And one last point “and salute the troops for defending our freedom (which is true)” is as basic a cop-out as the teachers that didn’t say anything. Our troops are no more defending our freedoms than they are making the world a better place and it’s been a long time since that’s been the case.

  • Jeff

    Hooray for Mr. Zero! Yes, let the kids fail if they fail to do the work! I went to a college with high-achieving students and was surprised how poorly some kids dealt with failure the first time they did poorly on a class assignment. (Thankfully I was still able to get into the school despite the fact that I had learned how to deal with academic failure in high school!) And researchers have found that there is a delicate balance between coddling a student (e.g. having a no-fail policy; “snow plow parents” who clear all obstacles out of the way of their children) and assisting children to help them learn how to succeed. There was a great American RadioWorks podcast that discussed this in March.

    “When [Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania] studied some high-performing charter schools that are successful at raising their students’ achievement levels, she found that high performance did not necessarily transfer to college success. She explained that many of these schools hold a “no fail” policy, which means teachers and administrators provide a scaffolding to keep their students from any failure while under the school’s care. Duckworth pointed to teachers that tell students to call them at home, at any hour, if they are struggling with an assignment, or teachers that meet with students outside of school hours, at the student’s convenience, to work them through math problems or a writing assignment. When these same students get to college, they often collapse, unable to figure out how to succeed academically on their own, how to fill out financial aid forms, or how to deal with roommate conflicts.”

  • Henry T.

    The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others—as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders—serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few—as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and *men*—serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.

  • jon

    Love the back to back schools violating rights of students and schools ensuring that all students pass.

    Seems like the two stories setup for a wonderful situation where we shuffle kids into a school, expect them to keep the kids from breaking any law, rule, or policy and then shuffle them out 15 years later none the better for the experience. Go Schools!

  • Jim Shapiro

    Re Mr Zero –

    So the poor little high school darlings are “demotivated” when they receive no credit if they didn’t hand in the work?

    Awww. Then maybe he could put a happy face in the zero.

    And be sure to use motivating colors when he gives them their failing grades. Green for “go”?

    Pink is a nice color. It might not be motivating, but it wouldn’t shock their little eyes.

  • Jim Shapiro

    And the law enforcement officials who participated in this kangaroo court in St. Charles are not being charged with abuse of authority by the Attorney General’s office because…?

  • Bob Collins

    //How is requiring a breathalyzer test a violation of the constitution (I’m assuming you’re referring to the 4th amendment). Does failing to take this test prevent a student from actually graduating? What if a student appeared to be intoxicated at the event? Would administering the test at that point then be acceptable?

    I would say you could at least have a discussion about probable cause in that situation, sure.

    But this isn’t that. This is subject everyone to a search on the basis of a probable cause that doesn’t exist.

    As I said earlier, the closest parallel are the issue of sobriety checkpoints. The Supreme Court has found that they do infringe on the Fourth Amendment, but that the denial of those rights are outweighed by the public interest in eliminating drunk driving.

    The same cost/benefit analysis is what allows Minnesota to lock people up without end even though they’ve served their time.

    No case has been made to show that there’s an overwhelming public interest in denying the rights of students in St. Charles.

    But it doesn’t matter even if it had. Minnesota’s Supreme Court already ruled that sobriety checkpoints violate this state’s constitution.

    So to answer your question, if a student appears intoxicated, provisions allow that student to be escorted out and dealt by the authorities.

    It does not allow authorities to take everyone else out of the ceremony.

    And, of course, we haven’t even talked about the illogical purpose of a breathalyzer on Friday to “safeguard” an event on a Sunday.

  • Brad Benson

    // But this isn’t that. This is subject everyone to a search on the basis of a probable cause that doesn’t exist.

    Isn’t that essentially what the federal government (via the TSA) is doing to passengers at airports? If it’s ok there, why not at the school as well? (note: I really am playing devils advocate – I’m not a fan of forced breathalyzer tests or being groped by strangers at the airport).

    Ultimately, I think each time some would-be authoritarian figure tries something like this and succeeds emboldens those that follow. I also think that the populace is becoming accustomed to such behavior to the point of finding it “normal” and THAT is the aspect of this story that concerns me.

  • Bob Collins

    There’s an element of truth to that. The denial of rights is an incremental thing. Remember when the Patriot Act was being debated, the battle cry was “if you aren’t a terrorist, what are you worried about?”

    And, as I’ve written about before, the strength of the constitution lies in our willingness and determination to extend its protections to the most despicable people.

    We have freedom of the press because of a horrible journalist in Minnesota’s gang years of the ’20s. We have the ability protest because of Nazis in Skokie. A rapist is the reason we’re not compelled to talk to the police.

    So when it gets to the point where a sober honors student in a small city in Minnesota is forced to take a breathalyzer test to graduation, the next step is a pretty small one for these authorities to take unless more parents — and people who aren’t parents — step it up and more teachers refuse to be a part of it.

    It’s not hyperbole at all to say that failure to do means a lot of blood was shed on a lot of beaches for nothing.

    This debate should be the easiest and shortest one we’ll have all year. But, of course, it won’t be.

    Most people will be too busy to give a rip.