PORTLAND, Maine — A federal jury has determined that the parents of a child with disabilities have no First Amendment right to have their son wear a recording device to keep track of his school day.

A Topsham couple sued School Administrative District 75, saying they needed to equip their son with a recording device because his autism and a neurological syndrome left him largely unable to communicate. The couple said that, without recording his day, they couldn’t find out from their son how his schooling went and whether he was making progress in his education.

But the jury in U.S. District Court in Portland sided with the school district, which covers Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham, after deliberating for about an hour.

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The school district had argued that allowing the boy, now 17, to record his days might violate the confidentiality of other students and teachers, was barred by a school district policy, conflicted with the district’s contract with its teachers and could run counter to a state anti-voyeurism law.

“This is a resounding victory for the dedicated educators of SAD 75,” said Daniel A. Nuzzi, the lead lawyer representing the school district.

Nuzzi said he thinks a key argument was the unanimous opinion of district officials and teachers that recording the school day would have a chilling effect on the relationship between teachers and the student and possibly affect other students and teachers in the special education classrooms as well.

“This was an important case about the ability to respect the rights and privacy of students and teachers in the school,” Nuzzi said. He said teachers and other students should be free to interact without being concerned that their activities are being recorded.

Richard O’Meara, the lead attorney for the parents, said his clients were “weighing their options for appeal” and had no further comment on the verdict.

The case was considered a novel attempt to extend free speech rights to the use of a recording device in schools. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the national ACLU had joined the suit on behalf of the parents, Matt Pollack and Jane Quiron.

Pollack, Quiron and the school district have had a tense relationship for years over the parents’ efforts to learn more about the education their child was receiving. They said school district officials have also restricted their access to records concerning their son and argued that allowing them to record the day would help them find out more about their son’s education without “filtering” by school officials.

They said that their son arrived home one day upset and crying over school, which he normally enjoys, and they were unable to find out what had caused his upset. They also said he was bruised on his forearms one day and neither they nor school officials could explain how he got the bruises, even though the boy has an adult with him at all times during the school day.

© 2017 the Portland Press Herald
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