Recording Team Meetings, Not That Simple

A number of special education experts, including Pete and Pamela Wright, recommend recording Team meetings for later transcription.1 The obvious advantage of doing this is that you have a complete and unambiguous record of what was said in the meeting that can later be submitted as evidence in a due process hearing. While that is true, we have never felt the need to record a Team meeting, and instead see some potential disadvantages in doing so. Using a voice or video recorder at a meeting is likely to inhibit discussion. Team members may feel “on the record” and be less likely to talk freely about possible solutions that might benefit your child. Also, any service a Team promises in a meeting should be the primary subject of the follow-up letter to your liaison for written confirmation, which would make a transcription from a recording unnecessary.

The most significant reason, however, not to record meetings is that in our experience, when schools violate the special education laws, it is the violation that is important rather than details of discussions during a meeting. When we initiated a hearing request with our school district, it was the fact that the school had not prepared an IEP for our son the previous year that was important to the hearing officer. All our other evidence, some of which was based on statements made at Team meetings, was secondary and probably wouldn’t have resolved our case by itself.

Federal Law Doesn’t Mention Recording

What is more, IDEA does not explicitly give parents the right to record Team meetings. Some states, like California and Massachusetts, have laws requiring “all parties consent” before any recording of a conversation between two or more people can take place. This means that if just one person refuses to agree, it is illegal to record a meeting. IDEA does require schools to give parents “the opportunity to participate,”2 so that could provide a justification to record a Team meeting when one or both of the parents have a disability that prevents them from taking written notes, if a meeting is conducted in a language other than the parents’ native tongue, or possibly even if only one parent can attend. Any school policy regarding recording must be consistent and cannot change, ad hoc, from family to family or from meeting to meeting.

State Policies on Recording Vary Widely

The only sure guide about what is legal and appropriate is to consult your state or local policies and even these can be confusing. For example, in California, a state with an “all parties consent” law, the Department of Education (CDE) has a policy stating that a student’s parent or guardian “has the right to… initiate their intent to electronically audiotape the proceedings of the IEP team meetings,” if they notify the members of the IEP Team of their intent at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.3 There is no mention of how this CDE policy supercedes the state statute prohibiting recording if even just one meeting participant objects.

A few other states have regulations that permit recording a Team meeting, though there is no apparent consistency to them. New Jersey, for example, permits parents to “Tape record IEP meetings if you inform the other persons orally or in writing, prior to the meeting, stating that you intend to record the meeting.4 Virginia allows the use of audio recording devices at meetings, requiring only that parents “must inform the school before the meeting in writing if you plan to record the meeting with a tape recorder,” but even if parents do not inform the school in advance, audio recording is still permitted as long as the parent provides a copy of the audio recording to be included in their child’s school record. Apparently, Virginia regards video recording differently as the state policy allows schools to “permit, bar, or limit video recording of the IEP meeting or other meetings.”5 The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) straddles the fence, appearing to encourage parents (“You may want to tape record IEP meetings.“) but then pointing out that “Oregon law allows districts to either restrict or permit the tape recording of a meeting.”6

You Must Do Your Own Research

When you research your state or local school district’s policy regarding recording Team meetings, be sure of the accuracy of your sources. As we discovered many times during the years our son was in special education, school personnel and even administrators, while they might understand their particular specialty well, do not always know the law. Even worse, the Internet can provide as much misinformation as it can accurate information. Inaccurate “facts” can be repeated so often that people begin to believe them, especially when the source appears to be reputable. The most common myth regarding recording Team meetings that we have seen on many national disability advocacy group websites and even special education lawyer’s blogs is a variation of the California policy, that parents can record a meeting as long as they give the school 24 hours advance notice. While this might be true (or close to true) in some locations, this statement is always presented as if it were true everywhere. As our research shows, state and local policies vary widely. If you decide that you must make audio or video recordings of a Team meeting, first check with your state regulations, and then the regulations of your school district.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

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1. Pete Wright, “Tapes are `Best Evidence’ in Litigation,” http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/?p=63
2. 34 C.F.R. § 300.322 (a). The authorizing statute is 20 U.S.C. § 1415 (b)(1)
3. Notice of Procedural Safeguards CDE, T07-037, pp. 1-2. http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/qa/pseng.asp
4. Parental Rights in Special Education p. 15. http://www.state.nj.us/education/specialed/form/prise/prise.pdf
5. Parent’s Guide to Special Education pp. 39-41 http://www.doe.virginia.gov/special_ed/parents/parents_guide.pdf
6. Special Education: A Guide for Parents & Advocates p.62 https://droregon.org/wp-content/uploads/Special-Education-A-Guide-for-Parents-Advocates-Sixth-Edition.pdf