Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt told the Moberly School District to end a policy that bans student guardians from recording meetings at which their children’s education and disability plans are discussed.
“The right to record such meetings is vested in the parent, and they may exercise it as they see fit regardless of any restrictions or prohibitions you would prefer to be in place,” Schmitt said in a Sept. 16 letter to the district.
A new state law that took effect Aug. 28 prohibits schools districts from preventing parents or guardians from recording Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. The letter to Superintendent Dustin Fanning came after the attorney general’s office learned that the Moberly district required parents to sign a “Request to Record IEP/504 Meeting” document. Schmitt advised the district to revise the policy in a way that complies to state law or get rid of it altogether.
“Neither you, nor the Moberly School Board, have any authority whatsoever to limit a parent’s ability to make an audio recording of an IEP meeting to which they are a party,” the letter stated.
Voicemails and an email for Fanning were not returned Monday.
Missouri is a one-party consent state, meaning any person may record someone’s voice without that person’s permission. Schmitt’s letter said preventing guardians from recording these meetings was in direct violation of this policy.
The law puts the following limitations on school districts:
• School districts and charter schools cannot prevent legal guardians of a student from recording audio from IEP meetings.
• Recordings made during the meeting are the property of the parent or legal guardian and cannot be used by the district as a public record.
• Districts cannot require guardians to notify them of plans to record a meeting within a period of over 24 hours.
*State Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, sponsored similar legislation, a portion of which was later amended into the bill that became law.
“There have been some issues, mainly at Moberly with them still requiring parents to ask to record,” Basye said.
Whether parents can record IEP and similar meetings about their children has been a point of disagreement in Columbia Public Schools. Last May, after a charged public comment session, the Columbia School Board voted 4-3 against allowing parents to record teacher meetings at which their children’s IEP and similar plans were discussed.
At the time, board President Helen Wade said she was concerned that allowing recording might affect the ability to recruit and retain professionals as well as cause a chilling effect. “People act differently when they are being recorded. They just do,” she said at the meeting.
The old policy remained on the district website as of Monday afternoon, but spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said the district has complied with the law since it took effect. Baumstark said the district is waiting to update the website until the Missouri School Boards’ Association revises the policy for all public school districts in the state. The revised policy will go to the school board for adoption.
Robyn Schelp, president of the advocacy group Missouri Disability Empowerment, which lobbied to allow recordings, said she thinks having outdated policies on district websites is problematic. Parents have no way of knowing whether the policies are in effect without taking extra steps to find out.
Basye said he sees school districts’ refusal to follow this law as an attack on families with children who have special needs. He also said that if other districts do not comply, he may pursue having a penalty provision put on the bill that will pull back state funds.
“The only thing that gets the attention of the public school lobby is funding,” Basye said. “If you attack funding or even threaten to attack funding, they notice.”
Schmitt is particularly passionate about special needs issues because he has a son with tuberous sclerosis and epilepsy, spokesperson Chris Nuelle said. He said Schmitt first got involved in politics to help advocate for students like his son.
“Depriving parents of the ability to record these crucial meetings is indefensible and flies in the face of transparency,” Schmitt said in a statement about the letter.