First Circuit Holds That Parent Has No First Amendment Right to Record Child’s IEP Team Meeting

On January 4, 2024, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued a decision in Pitta v. Medeiros, No. 23-1513, affirming the dismissal of a parent’s claim that a Massachusetts school district (“the District”) and its Administrator for Special Education violated his First Amendment rights when they refused his request to video record his child’s private, individualized educational program (“IEP”) team meeting. In so holding, the First Circuit concluded that video recording an IEP team meeting is not protected by the First Amendment.

In February and March 2022, the parent and District employees attended two virtual IEP team meetings to discuss and develop a new IEP for his child. Following these meetings the parent alleged that certain statements were not included in the team meeting minutes, objected to the minutes as an official record of the meetings, and requested that the minutes be amended to include the omitted portions. No amendments were made. Months later, in September 2022, the parent attended another IEP team meeting, which was conducted virtually through a password protected Google Meet. The parent requested that the District employees record the meeting using the Google Meet record function. The District refused his request, stating that it would be invasive and was not permitted by District policy; however, the District offered to audio record the meeting instead. Once the meeting began the District announced that the meeting was being audio recorded and the parent responded that he was video recording. The Administrator for Special Education informed the parent that if he did not stop his video recording she would end the meeting. When the parent refused to discontinue video recording the meeting was ended. The parent then filed a lawsuit in United States District Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

The District Court dismissed the parent’s complaint for failure to state a claim and the parent appealed. On appeal, the First Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The Court reasoned that the First Amendment does not protect video recording an IEP team meeting because: (1) such meetings do not occur in a public space; (2) school staff who attend IEP team meetings are not included in the definition of “public officials” as the term has been applied in First Circuit precedent; and (3) there was no corresponding right of the public to receive the information or, therefore, any intent that it be disseminated.

In particular, the Court explained that a student’s IEP team meeting, whether virtual or in person, is ordinarily not conducted in a “public space” because these meetings involve the discussion of sensitive student information. The Court added that school employees attending IEP team meetings are not akin to the public officials in the decisions cited by the parent, which generally involved law enforcement officers performing duties in obviously public spaces. Finally, the Court reasoned that its precedent has repeatedly framed the right to record public information as being linked to the right of the public to receive this information. In contrast, the Court held no such interest would be served by video recording an IEP team meeting because the information at the meeting is not intended to be disseminated to the public.

Although the Court concluded that there is no First Amendment right to record an IEP team meeting, the Court further held that even if there were such a right the parent’s claim would still fail. It ruled that the District’s policy prohibiting video recording of IEP meetings promotes a substantial government interest because it promotes candid conversations in the discussion and development of IEPs in order to provide students with a free appropriate public education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) while leaving open alternative means for collecting and memorializing information from IEP team meetings. The Court stated that the policy serves a purpose unrelated to the specific content of the meeting and would therefore survive First Amendment challenge.

The First Circuit’s decision in Pitta makes clear that the right to film public employees performing their duties is context specific and does not extend to events such as student IEP team meetings.  It should be noted that this decision only addresses the parent’s claim under the First Amendment and does not address whether a parent has a right to video record an IEP team meeting under any federal or state statute or regulation. If you have questions about the content of this update, please contact us. We are pleased to assist public employers with all issues related to First Amendment compliance and/or to the conduct of IEP Team meetings.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.