Topsham parents seek permission to record nonverbal son’s school day

7 Nov

A story out of Maine (USA) brings up an important discussion about what are the rights of a disabled student to have his/her day communicated completely to his/her parents. If an individual (student in this case, but one can easily generalize to adults in a non-school setting) are unable to effectively communicate what happens to them during the day, what do those who advocate with/for those individuals have as a means to fully learn about what happens?

It’s a cumbersome point, I know, but consider this news story: Topsham parents seek permission to record nonverbal son’s school day

The parents want to make an audio recording of the student’s day. The student is non-verbal and, apparently, unable to otherwise effectively communicate the events of the day. A non-disabled student can report back to family, “I’ve been bullied” or “I was placed alone in a room for an hour”.

The parents of a 13-year-old Mt. Ararat Middle School student who has autism and intellectual disabilities are challenging the school district’s decision to block them from sending their son to school with an audio recording device.

The school district is fighting the parents’ proposal, saying it’s not conducive to providing educational services and poses a threat to the privacy of other students and school staff.

At what point are the nonverbal student’s rights so infringed that the school must make an accommodation?

Recall a recent story where a parent sent an audio recorder with his son. (I’ll add the link soon). He found that his son was being ignored and worse by staff.

(Trigger alert): A story out of Bakersfield, California, makes the point of the need for information about a disabled student’s day. This one isn’t specific to autism or non-verbal ability, but does involve a 16 year old

Parents of alleged assault victim take KHSD to court

The girl was a 16-year-old 10th-grader at the time of the alleged Oct. 15, 2009, incident but had the intellectual capacity of a 4-year-old, according to a civil complaint filed in September 2010.

The girl was attacked at about 11 a.m., and afterward the school allowed her to finish out her regular school day and even attend an after-school program, not telling her parents what had happened to her until more than five hours later, according to the complaint.

The girl was assaulted in a bathroom adjacent to a special education classroom where a teacher’s aide walked in on them after he heard screaming, according to the lawsuit. Both children were naked from the waist down and the then-15-year-old boy was clutching the girl’s hips from behind, according to the lawsuit

The school officials put off telling the parents. Would that have even been possible with a non-disabled student? The school would have known this would be reported back (or that the student would have called the parents immediately).

The story goes on:

The lawsuit contends that the school should have more closely supervised the boy, “a troubled special education student having had prior difficulties and/or complaints concerning similar conduct with others.”

It isn’t the parents who have the rights to know what goes on (or at least that is not the only point here). The students have a right that their guardians know what happens to them. If the student is unable to effectively communicate what happens, his/her rights are not the same as those of everyone else in the school. Somehow that has to be remedied.

5 Responses to “Topsham parents seek permission to record nonverbal son’s school day”

  1. Science Mom November 7, 2012 at 03:13 #

    On what bloody planet wouldn’t a recording device be allowed as an accomodation for a disabled student? Seriously, who do these school administrators think they are?

    • Lara Lohne November 7, 2012 at 07:24 #

      There was a story about a father who ‘wired’ his autistic son who wasn’t non verbal completely so was able to tell his father that the teachers were mean to him and the other kids in his class. This father didn’t notify the school until after the recording had been made (which is what I thought was the case under federal law) and it caught some remarkably incriminating conversations, statements, etc. that went on in the classroom.

      I don’t remember how long ago it was, but I remember hearing parts of it that had been recorded throughout the day and that poor little boy had some really nasty things said to him, or about him to the other teachers or aides in the room. Parents of special needs parents should automatically be able to place recording devices on their children, particularly if they suspect their child is being harmed. That should be especially true if the child is non verbal or limited in their expressive language, like my son.

      I am fortunate because my son LOVES school. He is happy and excited to leave every day and is full of smiles and excitement when he comes home. When there have been issues, the school has informed me immediately. Typically, it’s because they changes something in my son’s routine and he didn’t take well to it, but there was compounding factors they weren’t aware of that happened before school so I don’t fault them and they actually handled it very well. Still, new teachers may come along, changes to the school he goes to as he ages, etc. will bring new dynamics into the situation and my need to know more then my son can tell me might change. I hope I never get to that place, but I can’t say it isn’t something that concerns me greatly and I really hope these parents get that recording device in the school and that it sets a president nationwide for special needs students and their educational rights, and their parents’ rights as the children’s advocates.

    • Moderation November 7, 2012 at 18:35 #

      The school’s reasoning was 2-fold. The first, that it would be non-conducive to the education process seems fallacious. The second, that it would infringe on the rights of other students has some merit. You would need to have monitoring provided by the school (such as web-based video with parental passwords, that some daycares use) with consent from all the student’s parents to be recorded. Cost of such monitoring is minimal. Having each child bring in a recording device would certainly present some privacy issues (what would prevent one parent from posting publicly the recording of another child’s activity?).

      • Sullivan (Matt Carey) November 7, 2012 at 18:49 #


        this is a tough question. One way I see it, a parent is allowed to visit a classroom to observe. The parent is then entrusted with the privacy of the children in the classroom. The parent could easily post publicly his/her observations about those other children.

        I do take very seriously the privacy issues of the other children in the class. I do think there is a right for a student to be able to report back to his/her parents about what goes on during the day as well. How do we allow an individual who is unable to effectively communicate those issues his/her rights?

        One of the school’s arguments was that recording is not allowed under the collective bargaining agreement they have with teachers. I find that argument fallacious as well. The school can not give up the rights of their students in contract negotiations with faculty and staff.

  2. Quokka November 8, 2012 at 06:49 #

    This is very topical for me at the moment as I have been dealing with a similar situation with a young girl with a physical and intellectual disability. We have been attempting to come up with strategies that every one can agree on, with a commitment to review them every term. So far we have developed a daily communication book for the child to her parents were she rates how she is feeling, including about how she feels about her teachers etc throughout the school day. Fortunately we have an excellent teaching staff and non teaching staff who regularly perform peer support evaluations, video each others lessons, have parental surveys and encourage expert teachers to come and observe (these teachers have also agreed to provide feedback). The staff want this information as much as the parents to review the timing of certain activities through out the school day and week.

    I have been called into schools to conciliate when parents don’t feel a child is being heard and staff are worried that someone is going to make a complaint at the slightest perceived mistake. It is very difficult to move forward from this point. I feel unfortunately that many schools don’t understand the principle of “nothing about us without us” is central to any decision made about children with disability.

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