Parents told the Columbia School Board this month they favor a state-mandated policy that formalizes their right to record meetings about their children’s education plans. At the time, two parents told the board there’s more work to be done, and they still feel that way. Meanwhile, area school districts have updated their recording policies to fall in line with the new state law.
At the Nov. 8 meeting, the Columbia board approved a policy that allows parents to record audio during individualized education plan and 504 plan meetings. The meetings are often long and involve specific discussions covering a lot of ground.
Adoption of the policy was a formality for the Columbia district. Missouri parents have been legally permitted to record such meetings since late August, when a state law that prohibits districts from preventing parent recordings took effect.
After the law was passed, the Missouri School Boards’ Association, which writes policies for about 400 Missouri school districts, revised the recording policy to comply with state law. School districts statewide, including Columbia’s, have since adopted it.
Outstanding parental concerns
Michelle Ribaudo has followed the recording policy’s journey closely. She has three children in the district, two of whom have autism. She is president of the nonprofit Missouri Disability Empowerment Foundation and a member of the Columbia Special Education Parent Teacher Association.
Ribaudo said the need for a new policy was frustrating, given that Missouri is a one-party consent state. This means a person doesn’t need permission to record someone else.
“We shouldn’t have had to go get a law passed to be able to record these meetings anyway,” Ribaudo said in an interview.
At the Nov. 8 board meeting, Ribaudo expressed another concern about the policy’s language. The School Boards’ Association policy the Columbia board adopted requires parents to notify the district they want to record an IEP or 504 plan meeting “at least 24 hours prior to the time the meeting is scheduled to occur.”
However, under state law, guardians who wish to record a meeting cannot be required to let the district know of their plans to do so “more than 24 hours” in advance, meaning 24 hours is the maximum notification period a school district can legally set.
Ribaudo said she thinks the language of the revised district policy is intimidating to parents. She was also disappointed it wasn’t written to include parents or students covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Robyn Schelp, who has a son at Jefferson Middle School, also spoke during public comment. Schelp is president of Missouri Disability Empowerment, which lobbied to get the law on parent recording passed.
During the board meeting, Schelp said she worried whether the policy was written in a way that can be accurately interpreted by future school boards.
“How MSBA has it worded ... I think in the future, schools could make the mistake of creating longer requirements that would be unlawful,” Schelp said in an interview.
As for the logistics of recording IEP and 504 meetings, Columbia Public Schools provides the recording equipment used in parent meetings, according to an FAQ on the district website. If a parent shows up wanting to record who hasn’t notified the district a day earlier, the district will do what it can to provide recording equipment or will reschedule the meeting, if possible.
“In other words, we’ll figure it out by making every effort to make the meeting possible with necessary recording equipment,” district spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said in a text.
A line in the policy states the district superintendent cannot prevent people who are legally authorized to record a meeting from doing so. Because both IEP and 504 plan meetings fall under this item, the district cannot keep parents from recording.
What other districts are doing Moberly
Moberly School District’s adoption of the policy was a move the state government had eyes on for months.
On Tuesday, Missouri State Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against the Moberly district for charging the attorney general’s office roughly $2,145.60 in exchange for documentation regarding the district’s policy for recording IEP and 504 plan meetings. A statement released by the office stated the cost was excessive and violated the Sunshine Law.
This is not the first time the state has called the Moberly district out on this topic. In September, Schmitt sent a letter to the district, calling on it to change or remove the recording policy it had in place at the time.
The district now requires parents to provide 24-hour notice of plans to record a meeting.
“If parents are unable to notify the district of their intent to record, we plan to offer an alternative meeting date and time, or have the meeting as scheduled without recording it,” superintendent Dustin Fanning said in an email.
Schmitt’s letter, which was sent to Fanning, said it was unlawful for the district to continue to ask parents to sign a “Request to Record IEP/504 Meeting” form, since parents were already legally permitted to record and did not need district permission to do so.
On Sept. 21, Fanning told the Missourian the district complied with state law and the document the district had parents sign was not a consent form but rather a form that notifies the district of parents’ plans to record.
The Moberly district adopted the revised policy at its Nov. 9 School Board meeting.
Southern Boone (Ashland)Although the Missouri School Boards’ Association policy permits districts to require a notification period, Superintendent Chris Felmlee said the Southern Boone School District will not enforce one. Felmlee said that regardless of the time period in which parents tell the district they want to record a meeting, it will not change how the district treats parents or students during meetings.
On Oct. 20, Hallsville School District’s board approved the new policy. Like others, the district is asking parents wanting to record a meeting to notify the district 24 hours in advance.
If a guardian informs the district less than 24 hours before the meeting, it will do what it can to continue with the meeting as planned, Kari Yeagy, district communications director, said in an email.
“The district would do everything we could to ensure that we also have the capabilities to record on such notice as required by the policy,” Yeagy said.