Refusal of Request to Video Record IEP Team Meeting Did Not Constitute First Amendment Violation


On June 10, 2024, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a parent who claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when a Massachusetts school district refused to allow video recording of his child’s virtual IEP team meeting. (Scott D. Pitta v. Dina Medeiros, et al. (2024) 23-1090.) This action leaves in place a decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that concerns over the accuracy of an IEP team’s notetaking practices did not give rise to a constitutional right to video record. (Pitta v. Medeiros (1st Cir. 2024) 90 F.4th 11.)

Pitta, the student’s father, claimed that District employees had made statements at his child’s IEP meetings which were not recorded in the notes of the meetings. Pitta claimed this rendered the notes incomplete and misleading. After District staff refused to make changes, Pitta requested that the District video record a subsequent meeting using the Google Meet video recording function. The District refused, explaining that such would be invasive and was not permitted by District policy. Parent thereafter began to video record the meeting on his own. When he refused to stop, the District’s Administrator of Special Education and IEP meeting chair, terminated the meeting.

Pitta brought suit against the District and the District’s Administrator of Special Education in her official capacity. He argued that his right to video record his child’s IEP meeting came within his First Amendment right to record government officials. Parent appealed the District Court’s initial dismissal of the case. On appeal, the First Circuit acknowledged individuals may have a right to video record government officials under certain circumstances, but such right did not include the video recording of the IEP meetings in question. The Court noted that school staff involved in the virtual IEP team meetings were not the type of “public officials” for which video recording was deemed to be covered by the First Amendment. It noted that even if the meeting was in person and not virtual, the general public is not free to walk into a school and enter a meeting of educators. The Court further reasoned that the right to video record is “linked to the right of the public to receive the information” and important to promoting the “free discussion of governmental affairs.” This was not the case here, as IEP team meetings are not ordinarily conducted in public places, nor are the discussions of the team meant to be disseminated to the public. The District argued that video recording IEP team members would hinder the performance of their duties given such recording carries a high risk of suppressing the sensitive, confidential, and honest conversations necessary when discussing or developing a child’s IEP. The Court found these arguments persuasive.

Even if parents were entitled to a First Amendment right to video record IEP meetings, the Court determined the District’s policy prohibiting the video recording of an IEP team meeting served the significant governmental interest of promoting candid discussion about the development of the IEP, was content neutral and narrowly tailored, and therefore constituted a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction. The Court left open, however, the question of whether a parent may have a right to video record an IEP team meeting if necessary to meaningfully participate in the IEP process. In a footnote, the Court acknowledged that Pitta’s briefing claimed, for the first time, that he needed to video record the IEP meeting in order to “meaningfully assert his parental rights protected by the IDEA.” The First Circuit declined to address this, noting such was not a First Amendment claim, but rather an administrative hearing claim subject to exhaustion under the IDEA before it could be brought as a civil action in federal court.

The IDEA does not address the use of audio or video recording devices at IEP meetings, and no other federal statute either authorizes or prohibits the recording of an IEP or Section 504 team meeting by either a parent or a school official. Unlike audio recording which is authorized by California law in certain limited circumstances for IEP and Section 504 meetings, video recording of IEP and Section 504 team meetings is not authorized by California law. (Ed. Code, §§270 and 56341.1(g)(1).) If presented with a request to video record an IEP or Section 504 team meeting and said request is denied, school district staff should consider reminding parents and/or legal guardians of the right to audio record in compliance with the above referenced statutes in certain circumstances, e.g., Ed. Code, § 270 for Section 504 team meetings, and Ed. Code, § 56341.1(g)(1) for IEP meetings.

Should you have any questions concerning the topic of this alert, please do not hesitate to contact the authors or your AALRR counsel for clarification and guidance.

This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process.

© 2024 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo

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