As a professional with over 25 years of experience as a speech-language pathologist, special education administrator and K-8 principal in Missouri, I have attended hundreds of Individualized Education Program, or IEP, meetings in my career.

In every public school where I have worked, a board policy prohibited both school staff and parents from recording those meetings.

Currently, there is a debate in Columbia Public Schools about this issue. Parents are asking the School Board to change its policy and allow them to record meetings about their children.

I want to point out an important oversight related to this recording debate.

The School Board is asking, “Should we allow parents to record these meetings?” What they should be asking is, “What are we doing to prepare teachers to be confident and legally compliant in IEP meetings?”

Currently, it is already legal for parents to record these meetings in Missouri because it is a one-party consent state.

So, why are we even arguing about whether parents can record the meetings? It is the parents’ legal right to do so already. This can and does occur, even if it is not openly disclosed to the school personnel.

The bigger concern should be, “How is the school leadership preparing to support its teachers in IEP meetings when we know that parents are already recording?”

What are school boards, superintendents and special education administrators doing to make sure teachers can be protected?

This appears to be the current thought process: Prohibiting recordings somehow protects the teacher’s identity and comments made during these meetings.

That is flawed logic.

What the CPS School Board needs to understand is that any IEP has the potential to go through a dispute process — a complaint, mediation or due process.

The content of these meetings and disputes is subject to public posting on state and federal websites such as the Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education and the Office of Civil Rights.

These complaints include details from the dispute, such as names of teachers, administrators and/or board members.

This is already happening, and these complaints are a matter of public record.

They are discoverable by anyone with only the students’ names redacted or protected (initials only), not the identity of school staff.

This is not going to change with any type of policy related to recorded meetings. So, identity is a moot point in regard to protecting a teacher’s comments.

Teachers are public employees, and any conversations they have are already subject to open records requests.

So, instead of arguing about whether parents can record IEP meetings, school boards need to ask themselves:

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  • “What are we doing to prepare our teachers to be legally supportive of their roles?”
  • “What professional development or training do they need to help prepare them to advocate in the best interest of their students?”
  • “How can we better aim their voice to create the most effective learning environment possible?”
  • “How can we train teachers to be so confident in their relationship skills and procedural skills that they don’t have any fear of being recorded?”

Instead of instilling fear and silence about recording meetings, the School Board should shift to understanding the needs of training teachers.

Schools need to train teachers about what to say and how to say it so they can be honest and open with parents but still proactive in affecting positive change for students.

Administrators can empower our teachers with targeted training to help them become confident communicators and build trusting relationships with their families.

Policies and training can protect teachers, administrators and board members from unwanted negative public perception and reduce the number of disputes and legal fees.

School districts need to be able to openly record their own meetings. This will also protect the district’s stance during disputes and balance any parental complaints or recordings in proceedings.

I have been fortunate to be part of some of the most amazing IEP meetings, where teachers and parents felt comfortable. They could openly communicate a student’s strengths and areas of impact.

These meetings included collaborative brainstorming that helped build incredible educational programs for students with disabilities.

So many times I’ve wished these meetings had been recorded to serve as model examples. I envision the possibility, with parent permission, that these recordings could be used as positive training support.

I challenge the school leadership of CPS to stop wasting time on debating whether it should allow parents to record, because it’s already a fundamental right.

Instead, school leadership should embrace the notion of enacting better policies and training to prepare and support its teachers to be proficient communicators. That would remove the fear associated with being recorded in meetings.

Kelly Ott, MEd, MHS, CCC-SLP, is a former principal in both public and private schools in Missouri.

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