“Polygraphing Students, Sensibly”

The Chicago Tribune editorial staff (who should know better) moralize on the “sensible” use of polygraphs to interrogate high school students. Excerpt:

After raiding a teenage drinking party in Dunlap, Ill., near Peoria, police sent the local high school a list of the students who allegedly were present. As it turned out, 12 of them were athletes–who as a condition of participation in sports are required to pledge not to drink or to remain at a party where underage drinking is going on. Several of those reported by the cops were members of the football team–which had just made the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

Given the circumstances, school Supt. Bill Collier did something that was unpleasant but necessary. He suspended all 12 of the athletes who were reported, including nine football players. If that had been the end of it, the episode would not have drawn any notice or complaint outside of Dunlap.

But Collier wasn’t entirely happy with this remedy. He had doubts about the guilt of some of the kids, because the police made no arrests and didn’t see all the kids whose names they turned in. Some of the teens insisted they had left the party as soon as they found there was drinking.

Vexed over the difficulty of getting at the whole truth, Collier then did something else: He gave the suspended students the option of taking polygraph tests. Those who passed would be reinstated; those who failed would be no worse off. Students could have their lawyers present, and the cost would be split between the district and the parents. Ten students took him up on the offer. Three were cleared, the rest flunked.

Polygraphs are not foolproof, and administering them in an effort to detect misbehavior where none was alleged would be hard to justify. But to make them available on a voluntary basis to students who have already been judged deserving of suspension suggests a welcome desire to avoid harming kids who have done nothing wrong.

The fact that polygraphs make sense in this case doesn’t mean they should be put into widespread use. No one wants school officials forcing students to take such exams as a routine matter, as they do with drug tests.

This tool should be regarded as a last resort in special circumstances. The Dunlap school district acted sensibly when faced with a troubling dilemma. The next one that embraces polygraphs may not have such a good reason.

You can send a letter to the Chicago Tribune by e-mail to ctc-TribLetter@Tribune.com. For discusion of the Dunlap High School polygraph inquisition, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, “Dunlap dishes out polygraph ultimatum.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *