High-stakes testing took on a new meaning at a Dunlap, Ill., high school recently, as the school may be the first in the nation to use a polygraph machine to discipline its students.
The purpose: to determine whether the teenagers violated Dunlap High School’s code of conduct by attending a party where alcohol was consumed.
Seven of the 10 students who submitted to the lie detector examsall of them football playersflunked the questioning in October and were barred from competing in the first round of the state playoffs. Some of their parents wept when they learned their children had lied to them.
Dunlap High went to extraordinary lengths to get to the bottom of what was otherwise a routine case of teenagers getting into trouble.
School Superintendent Bill Collier said it was the right thing to do to sort the guilty from the innocent: “It may look bad, it may sound bad, but it’s the fairest way.”
The investigation began after police broke up a party Oct. 6. Nobody was arrested, but officers took down the names of everyone present and traced the registration of all cars parked there. Their list of 15 athletes was turned over to school officials.
Three students admitted guilt when confronted. But many others claimed that they had left the party as soon as they realized alcohol was present. So school officials proposed the polygraphs.
Two students were suspended from the team after refusing to take the test, and seven more were suspended after flunking. Collier pointed out that three students were cleared who might otherwise have been punished.
“For these three kids, this worked exactly the way it is supposed to work,” he said.
Dunlap High went on to lose the Oct. 27 playoff game 28-7.
Mike Griffith, a policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States in Denver, said he has never heard of a school using polygraphs in such a way, and he called it an extreme measure.
“But in the end,” he said, “if the parents don’t file a complaint and the school district is satisfied, it’s a done deal.”
Matt Jones, an attorney who represented the students who took the polygraphs and their parents, said a lawsuit is unlikely, but parents may try to pressure the school board into changing its policy regarding parties.
The students’ names were not released by the school or Jones.
Jones said the suspended playersmost of them startershad greater concerns than the outcome of the game.
“Part of the disappointment is the public scrutiny and having their parents disappointed in them,” the lawyer said. “With most of them, it’s not about their participation but because they let down their team.”
Some in this central Illinois town of about 1,000 people 12 miles north Peoria have been openly critical of school officials.
“You would think they have better things to do,” said Mark Wade, a 1979 Dunlap High graduate.
Wade said the drinking policy existed when he was in high school, and athletes and others were sometimes questioned about their weekend activities. He said students sometimes lied, and their answers were accepted; nobody gave them a polygraph.
“That wouldn’t have washed. The parents wouldn’t have stood for it,” he said.
Collier and Jones said that before each polygraph session, held at the school board’s offices, the students and their parents were taken aside. The students were asked to describe their actions that night.
Before the examinations began, the parents were asked to leave to eliminate distractions.
Afterward, the polygraph examiner went over results with the students and their parents. Collier described the scene as sad, with some parents shedding tears as they realized their children had lied to them and the school.
The superintendent said getting the truth was more important than a football playoff game.
“I do know kids and adults can’t continue to tell lies,” he said. “Parents need to do more communicating with their kids on real-life issues and find out what they’re doing on weekends.”
Dunlap Community Unit School District #323
Education Commission of the States