COLUMBIA, Mo. — Nearly a dozen parents and others told the Columbia Board of Education this week that they favor changing the board policy to allow parents to record the meetings in which their child’s special education or disability plan is decided.

The board is expected to make a decision on the issue at its September meeting.

As he introduced the recording policy, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said there were 10 states in which the law allows recording of the special education meetings, including Kansas. He could find no school district in Missouri with a policy that allows recording of the meetings.

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He said parents in Camdenton filed a lawsuit against the school district there, seeking permission to record the special education meetings, but the court ruled in the school district’s favor.

“State law doesn’t make it a right to record, it is just not illegal to record,” Stiepleman said.

Missouri is a one-party consent state, meaning only one party in a conversation needs to consent to a recording.

Stiepleman presented results of an anonymous survey of teachers in which the teachers overwhelmingly opposed allowing recording of the meetings by a margin of 45 opposed and six in favor.

“This makes me uneasy,” read one response. “I can’t think of a reason why a parent would want to record a meeting other than something malicious.”

Some others wrote that they thought recording the meetings would stifle open discussions.

Parents who spoke said the meetings are overwhelming, that it’s difficult to take notes when the meetings are happening and that they sometimes miss important details.

Chad McLaurin said the current policy is in conflict with state law.

“Parents have the right to record — period,” he said. “It’s already state law.”

Robyn Schelp, president of Missouri Disability Empowerment also said parents can record the meetings, regardless of the board’s policy.

“The real question is do you want to know when the parents are recording or not,” she said. “We need to have these conversations.”

Kathleen Basi said she has been through nine special education meetings with her daughter. About a year ago, when her daughter was re-evaluated, she said she couldn’t remember what was discussed when questioned later by her husband.

“There was so much to process,” Basi said. “I couldn’t get it all.”

This is an opportunity for the school board to show its support of families, she said.

“The school district here has a choice to support parents or to throw out obstacles,” she said.

Parent Amie VanMorlan said she has been through seven special education meetings with her son, with a 5 1/2-hour meeting when he transitioned to middle school. She said it was wrong of any teacher to assume parents had malicious intent.

“It is very irresponsible and divisive to assume my motivation,” she said.

Michelle Ribaudo, president of the Columbia Special Education Parent-Teacher Association, challenged Stiepleman’s figures, saying they didn’t include the 27 one-party consent states. She said she appreciates the willingness of the school board members to take up the issue.

“Missouri is just very behind on this issue,” Ribaudo said.

Claudia Hand, who will be in sixth grade at Oakland Middle School, said her low vision prevents her from taking good notes in the meetings. She also doesn’t attend some of them.

“I don’t usually attend my meetings because emotions are high,” she said. A recording to review later would be helpful, she said.

Members of the school board said they appreciated the insight of the parents, but they were careful not to commit to the parents’ position.

“This has become a very serious issue for many people,” said board member Della Streaty-Wilhoit.

Board member Jonathan Sessions said the board should list the exceptions to its recording prohibition in the policy.

Board member Blake Willoughby said he would like to know what resources the district offers parents attending the meetings.

“In discussing these proposals, we need to think about what kind of an effect this would have on the content” of the meetings, said board President Helen Wade.

She said recordings had the potential for a chilling effect on the meetings.

© 2019 Columbia Daily Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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