Another test in schools: Cobb wants polygraphs for employees

Does it make sense for a school district to use polygraph tests to get to the truth in employee disputes and conflicts?

Cobb plans to do so.  The school board amended its discipline policy to say employees who refuse to take the exam could be fired. The district, the state’s second largest, is the only major school district in metro Atlanta that uses polygraph tests to try to determine whether a person is lying.

There is a great deal of controversy around the reliability of polygraph tests, which is contributing to concerns about Cobb’s policy.

According to the AJC:

Although administrators insist they rarely use polygraph tests, teacher advocates say that could change at any time and that they object to the test being used at all. “I don’t think [polygraph tests] are reliable, dependable or accurate,” said Connie Jackson, the president of Cobb County Association of Educators. “I think [their use is] horrible and unconscionable.”

Administrators say the tests are used in “he-said-she-said” cases, such as allegations of sexual molestation or theft, where there are few witnesses.

“We use it very sparingly and only in the most serious occasions,” said Mary Finlayson, who heads the district’s professional standards and ethics office. “We have to do everything within our power to get to the truth, and the polygraph is a tool for that.”

Some Cobb residents think the tests’ use can help teachers.

“What about some of the teachers where the students lie to get a teacher fired?” said Karyn Harrison, a former South Cobb PTA member. “If it’s going to get to the truth faster, it’ll save hours of time investigating and money.”

The tests, which cost up to $150, measure breathing, blood pressure and perspiration while a person answers a list of questions. Polygraph tests are allowed under federal law for public employees as long as they aren’t used as a sole basis to fire the person, the questions are tailored to the investigation and the employees understand that they aren’t waiving their fifth amendment rights by taking the test.

The tests are only admissible in state courts when both sides agree. The tests are largely seen as unreliable, said Steve Sadow, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney.

Several experts have questioned their accuracy and the legitimacy of examiners in recent years.

Georgia’s Professional Standards Commission rarely consider polygraph tests when considering whether to revoke a teacher’s license, said Paul Shaw, the commission’s director of educator ethics. Their office can’t afford them, and they’re often unreliable, he said.

“We just don’t see the need for them,” he said.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

47 comments Add your comment

crankee-yankee

September 19th, 2012
5:29 am

Big brother is alive & well.

Wilbur

September 19th, 2012
5:57 am

Will it help to get to the truth by getting to the truth? Is that really what you are asking?

Teacher

September 19th, 2012
6:21 am

I need to move to a state with unions!

mountain man

September 19th, 2012
6:23 am

I hear they are using polygraphs to discover what pseudonym teachers are posting on “Get Schooled” under. That way they can correlate your opinions with the “official school opinion” and see if you need an “attitude adjustment”.

mountain man

September 19th, 2012
6:27 am

If it is unreliable, then it not much of a “tool” to get to the truth. If it is a sexual molestation case, there better be some good proof going into the courtroom. It they are using them in “cases involving theft and student claims”, then are they using them on students? Or just on teachers? Maybe they should require parents to submit to them! When the parents call in to say Junior has to miss class to see a doctor when they are really starting a vacation early.

mountain man

September 19th, 2012
6:31 am

If we had a 100% effective lie detector, that would be a great thing, but to use a machine that tests for stress to supposedly detect lies?

Maybe we could use phrenology instead of background checks to determine what sort of person the teacher will be.

I know my doctor has gone back to using leeches and witchcraft as alternative healing arts.

mountain man

September 19th, 2012
6:35 am

“Will it help to get to the truth by getting to the truth?”

No, will it help getting to the truth by measuring stress factors. Or are you just measuring stress factors.

The lie detector’s actual name is POLYGRAPH – which means it charts several graphs of stress factors – it never claims that it detects lies. The ASSUMPTION is that when a person lies, these stress factors change.

catlady

September 19th, 2012
6:47 am

Why not simply use the rack? Cheaper, saves time, and you get 100% confession rate! I see Georgia moving to this, state-wide.

catlady

September 19th, 2012
6:49 am

Then, after they confess, you could just burn them at the stake, to save paying any retirement benefits!

Mountain Man

September 19th, 2012
7:16 am

So a student comes forward with a complaint that a teacher is sexually molesting him. You put the teacher on a “lie detector”. There are two possible outcomes:

Teacher passes. But you know that lie detectors are notoriously inaccurate, so you have to do a full investigation.

Teacher fails. You have to do a full investigation.

What did it get you?

The ONLY outcome which would be worth it is if the teacher confesses after the lie detector test. (not likely)

MORE likely is that the teacher agrees to resign for other reasons after failing the test. Then the teacher moves on to another school, and if they really are a child molester, continues the molestation there. Typical outcome in the education world (and in the Catholic church).

Dr. John Trotter

September 19th, 2012
7:34 am

I agree with the above poster. If the Cobb central office and presumably its lawyers (Brock and Clay Law Firm) have so much confidence in the reliability of polygraphs, then by all means use them on the students who may be lying on the teachers. This ought to be a hoot. I see that the Cobb County County School Board has fallen into the trap of thinking that the “discipline” that matters is disciplining the teachers, not the students. By the way, how is that Michael Hinojosa guy working out for you? Ha!

Mountain Man

September 19th, 2012
7:42 am

Another in a long line of failed and poorly thought out initiatives in Cobb County. They are the king of Ready, Fire, Aim! (laptops, school calendar)

Mountain Man

September 19th, 2012
7:44 am

“Why not simply use the rack? Cheaper, saves time, and you get 100% confession rate!”

I like the water method instead – throw the teachers in the water – if they drown, then they were innocent and are absolved. If they survive, they are guilty and are burned at the stake. It worked really well with witches – how many witches do you see nowadays?

Mortimer Collins

September 19th, 2012
7:57 am

Public sector employees are known for their resorting to telling lies, half-truths, concealments, misrepresentations, ommissions etc.

Polygraphs for these employees can only help!

Mortimer Collins

September 19th, 2012
7:58 am

“It worked really well with witches – how many witches do you see nowadays?”

Little known fact. Many bridges are made from wood/witches.

Fred ™

September 19th, 2012
8:06 am

jd

September 19th, 2012
8:09 am

I am so glad we have Republicans running things… Their business sense is just so awesome. Unfortunately, most seem to be experienced only with a Fool’s business!

Dr. John Trotter

September 19th, 2012
8:12 am

Remember that Cobb County was the home of the Leo Frank lynching. An unconscionable act. We know that we ought not be held responsible for the acitons of our ancestors, but I mention this to remind us that Cobb County has never been a paragon of civil liberties, to say the least.

bluegrog

September 19th, 2012
8:19 am

Why waste time with polygraphs? Let’s just waterboard them!

My goodness we have lost our everloving minds. Wait… can we use the polygraphs on the school board?

wow

September 19th, 2012
8:21 am

And we wonder why there are teacher unions in other states.

Just wow.

Lee

September 19th, 2012
8:26 am

I don’t like getting “the call” to go pee in a cup for some “random” drug test, but I do if I want to keep my job. And if they told me I had to take a polygraph to keep my job, I would do that as well. I also don’t like sitting in traffic for endless hours in my daily commute, but I do it every day.

Bottom line, we do a lot of things that we do not like in order to keep the job that supports our families.

mystery poster

September 19th, 2012
8:26 am

Thanks for the laughs this morning, everyone :-)

Lee

September 19th, 2012
8:29 am

You just have to smile and remember two adages:

“He who signs the check gets to make the rules.”

and

“The Boss may not always be right, but he is always the Boss.”

NONPC

September 19th, 2012
8:41 am

Polygraphs detect emotional unease. They do NOT detect lies. They are not admissible as evidence in a court of law. They are flawed pseudoscience. They have no business in dispute resolution in public schools.

William Casey

September 19th, 2012
9:13 am

@LEE: Did you by any chance serve in the Waffen SS?

Monroe

September 19th, 2012
9:14 am

Ridiculous. A lawsuit waiting to happen.

Tuckergirl

September 19th, 2012
9:23 am

“What about some of the teachers where the students lie to get a teacher fired?” said Karyn Harrison, a former South Cobb PTA member. “If it’s going to get to the truth faster, it’ll save hours of time investigating and money.”

Oh so it’s a money saving device!

Hilarious. This has legal nightmare written all over it. If it’s inadmissible in court, why is Cobb even going there?

Is sodium pentathol (truth serum) next?

I was convinced I lived in the nuttiest school district (Dekalb) but this makes me feel less lonely.

Jordan Kohanim

September 19th, 2012
9:23 am

Doesn’t this open Cobb County to a number of lawsuits? In such precarious matters such as accusations of abuse and theft, I would think they would veer away from potentially litigious procedures.

claytondawg

September 19th, 2012
9:45 am

I agree with MountainMan in that we should bring back the old “water method” for our teachers. Society already treats teachers as if they (teachers) are ruining education. Like everything else in society, there are some really, really bad teachers; there are some really, really bad policemen; there are some really, really bad ministers. Get the idea here? The powers-to-be are destroying the effectiveness of education and the classroom. Get a serious grip on life and look at common sense!!

[...] Maureen Downey also posts on it in the Get Schooled blog. [...]

A "Lowlie"

September 19th, 2012
10:03 am

And another way to harrass “Lowlie” Cobb County School employees. And it isn’t even accurate? Wait, how about using it on the administrators who accuse the “Lowlies”? Afraid it will lower the number of administrators ??

Woody

September 19th, 2012
10:31 am

“the employees understand that they aren’t waiving their fifth amendment rights by taking the test.”

Well, I’m curious how that works exactly – if I have a right, under the fifth amendment, not to incriminate myself, how is it that a polygraph test does not incriminate me (if I am secretly guilty)?

That being said, we continue to deteriorate into a society where intrusion into the traditionally private is commonplace. Think TSA lines, mandatory ultrasounds, Kate Middleton. It leads to the quasi-voluntary surrender of privacy to commercial data-gatherers and data-miners, and the voluntary relinquishment of privacy in Facebook, Google, and cellphones. Unlike, I guess, some others, I’m not comfortable in a boundary-less society where the contents of a woman’s womb, to say nothing of the contents of a person’s mind, are open to electronic inspection.

Really amazed

September 19th, 2012
11:02 am

My employer random drug test. Why not start that as well?????

another comment

September 19th, 2012
11:50 am

Well Cobb County needs to do something about some of the employees they are hiring. I sent an e-mail to Dr. Hinjoisa yesterday with a cc. to Dale Gaddis. The cc. to Gaddis was undelivered because the e-mail I found on the web was invalid.

Cobb has a big problem with inept Principal’s all holdovers or ones slipped in at the last minute from Fred’s regime, hiring male perverts. My daughter, who I spent thousands of dollars and much stress and anxiety getting her out of trouble due to other people in her car finally told me where the other girl got the fake ID from. I almost screamed. The other girl, that was driving my car without permission and gave the police a fake ID and bought 4-loco’s at a local convience store, got the fake ID from a Cobb County Student Teacher assigned to their school last Spring. It gets even better, he was having sex with the 18 year old senior. In exchange for having sex with the 18 year old senior he got her the fake ID that said she was born in 1990. What is wrong with the darn Principal of this school. In the fall Semester there was already a scandal that everyone knew about that a married
Math teacher who she had hired from another Cobb County school was having sex with a student. Then the Student tried to blackmale him to change her grade to an A, and charge him $200 and went around and bragged about it. They both were arrested by Cobb County Police in the Spring.

I about jumped out of my seat yesterday, when my daughter finally told me where the girl got the fake ID from. As a parent you send your kid to school, to be educated. Do you think that teachers or student teachers are going to be the ones that are providing students with fake ID’s, which is a crime in Georgia. As I sat in court with my child yesterday, I pointed out to her how lucky she was that she had not been the one caught with the fake ID, as the Judge pointed out it is a mandatory license revocation until age 21, among other things. Do you expect a teacher or a student teacher to be pursuing your daughter or your daughter’s friends for sex. I would expect that a student teacher would be on their best behavior, not out their trying to have sex with students. My daughter tried to tell me how he had convinced the girl that he wasn’t really a teacher, just a student teacher.

My daughter says this student teacher is not at her school this year. So what school is he at? She didn’t want me to say anything. She should have told me back in June, so the attorney could have gone to the DA with something. She just keeps telling me she wants to graduate and stay out of trouble. Well how can our students graduate, and stay out of trouble when you have student teachers and teachers trying to sex up our daughters or our daughters friends. Then in exchange get them a fake California ID. Then they intern go and buy booze for other kids in school. Then when they get caught they loose their eligibility for the Hope Scholarship and other Federal Aid. Yes, for an MIP you do loose it, if you plead guilty. Otherwise, you need to have parents that hire a good attorney and help you out. I am so mad right now, it is beyond belief.

They definitely need to do some sort of test. If it is not a 500 question personality test, that test for diviancey. Interview with other than Principals who are inept. I could tell if a male might have a tendence of going for high school girls just by observing them walking up and down the halls. Just have to read the body language.

Meanwhile I am waiting for Dr. H. to call me.

Pride and Joy

September 19th, 2012
2:18 pm

The fact that they are even considering using a polygraph tells you about the amount of lies and abuses there are in the school to investigate. Shameful.

mystery poster

September 19th, 2012
3:01 pm

@Another comment:
huh?

Beverly Fraud

September 19th, 2012
3:18 pm

Will the BOE members include polygraph testing for themselves?

another comment

September 19th, 2012
3:54 pm

Cobb County is now investigating with the Police. Dr. H. sent my e-mail to Dale Gaddis who responded to me this morning. They have called my child out of class several times to get information. I have learned that if a teacher is an existing system teacher and that school receives slots the new school that has positions open has no choice but to take that teacher. I also learned that the Principal’s get no choice over who they get as student teachers, that is assigned by the College/Universities and HR.

I would then think as a Principal, I would be especially watchful of these classes of people that I had no ability to select or interview.

seminole

September 19th, 2012
8:58 pm

“The fact that they are even considering using a polygraph tells you about the amount of lies and abuses there are in the school to investigate. Shameful.”

Leave it to our favorite troll to blame a stupid policy on teachers! Of course!!

Also, Lee – peeing in a cup is a PROVEN method of testing for drugs. Polygraphs do not PROVE anything. I’d be happy to take a drug test at the request of my employer because I know it would be negative. The same can’t be true for a polygraph, because they are not proven to be valid or reliable.

bootney farnsworth

September 19th, 2012
9:03 pm

I’ll take a polygraph just after I return from my appointment with the ACLU.

I’ll be going for damages, and jobs.

Chris Sanchez

September 20th, 2012
6:23 am

Polygraph exams are not admissible in court for a reason…someone might want to bring this to the attention of the decision makers in Cobb County.

Note

September 20th, 2012
6:23 am

Will Cobb allow use of a polygraph in disputes between teachers and administrators? Will administrators take polygraphs? There are way too many administrators who abuse their power.

Lee

September 20th, 2012
8:46 pm

“Also, Lee – peeing in a cup is a PROVEN method of testing for drugs.”

Google “False Positive Drug Test” and peruse through the results. Which is why most drug screens require you to provide two specime

Lee

September 20th, 2012
8:47 pm

Lee

September 20th, 2012
8:49 pm

“@LEE: Did you by any chance serve in the Waffen SS?”

One day, after I retire, I too can tell the world to Kiss My *ss. LOL

Incredulous Cobb Teacher

September 20th, 2012
10:02 pm

I am stunned. The school district that will harm 150+ employees at a school by not removing a poisonous administrator because they fear a discrimination lawsuit is now considering a policy to require employees to take a polygraph.

To quote one of my students, “For real?”.

The district just crossed my imaginary line in the sand. Enough is enough. What HR/supervisor/board member cooked up this bit of nonsense?

Ole Guy

September 22nd, 2012
4:55 pm