More than a dozen community members spoke on the right to record audio during special education planning meetings at a Columbia School Board meeting Monday.
IEPs, or individualized education programs, are provided for children in public schools who need special accommodations. According to previous Missourian reporting, 10.1% of students in Columbia public schools have IEPs.
The board read the district’s current policy on audio and video recording at the meeting and opened up discussion to the public. The policy is being reviewed with the possibility of revising it.
It prohibits recording at all meetings between district employees and parents or guardians. The policy states exceptions “will be made only in accordance with Board policy and law.”
These laws include the Americans with Disabilities Act, which covers IEPs.
Many people at the meeting, including Superintendent Peter Stiepleman, want the language in the policy to be updated to reflect this. Some members of the public want the policy to explicitly allow recording during all district meetings.
Robyn Schelp, president of Missouri Disability Empowerment, said that during the three years she has spent advocating for children with disabilities in Jefferson City, multiple legislators have told her it’s legal to record in meetings such as these under Missouri law. Missouri is a one-party consent state, meaning that only one person in a situation needs to know about a recording for it to be legal. This keeps wiretapping illegal but legalizes secret recordings.
“I don’t know that the question is ‘Should parents record?’ as much as ‘Do you want to know when the parents are going to record or not?’ and ‘Does CPS want to have their own copy?’” Schelp said.
A survey performed by the district found that 88% of district teachers are against changing the policy.
“They believe it would change the tone and the tenor of the meeting,” Stiepleman said.
However, some in the community are not convinced. Several parents said their intent in recording these meetings is to ensure no vital information gets lost. Some students who have IEP plans said they would use the recordings to stay up to date on their special education plans.
“Missouri’s just very behind in this issue,” Michelle Ribaudo, president of the Columbia Special Education PTA, said. “Us and Alabama are the two that actually prohibit this. And I think that’s a category that we do not want to be in.”
Earlier in the meeting, the School Board adopted and unanimously approved the 2019-2020 budget.
Chief Financial Officer Heather McArthur detailed priorities for the district’s five-year comprehensive improvement plan. Those priorities include improving teacher compensation and benefits for employees as well as investments in technology, security and special education.
The proposed budget puts total revenue at $228,679,727 with local funding accounting for 64%. The projected total expenditures is $219,249,694.
The district will spend just under $2 million on one-time expenses such as furniture and equipment for a new middle school expected to open in August 2020. Other one-time expenses include maintenance on existing facilities and transportation for students from Locust Street Elementary School who are attending Cedar Ridge Elementary School while Locust is being renovated.
The district will spend $3 million on recurring costs such as new administrative hirings within the district. Another $1 million will be added to increase the technology services budget. One of the largest expenditures for the new budget is the increase of employee salaries and benefits by more than $9 million.