Parent of Special-Needs Child Battles Mass. School District for 1st Amendment Rights

Evan Poellinger | April 15, 2024
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The Goldwater Institute is assisting a man who filed suit against a Massachusetts school district for violating a father’s First Amendment rights after it shut down a zoom meeting when it learned he was recording it for a personal record regarding his special-needs child. The Media Research Center recently had the opportunity to speak with Goldwater Institute Staff Attorney Adam Shelton about the case.

Scott Pitta, whose son J.J. attended Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District, learned in early 2022 that his son’s individualized education program (IEP) was going to be rescinded.

J.J. has special needs, but, Pitta alleged that school officials revealed “they had no good reason” to rescind the IEP and that “Teachers whose evaluation concluded that J.J. needed special education services were asked to ‘double-check’ their evaluation – but, those whose first evaluation concluded that he did not require services were not asked to ‘double-check.’”

These admissions, however, were censored from the official minutes of the meetings. In response, Pitta took matters into his own hands and decided to video record his next meeting with school officials. The school officials promptly ended the meeting when Pitta revealed that he was recording. In response, Pitta filed suit in federal court.

Concerning the factors at play in the case, Shelton made it clear that recording consent was not an element being considered in the suit. “I don’t think one party recording rules or two party recording rules come into play at all,” Shelton stated. “I know Massachusetts is a two-party recording state, but before the District Court and before the First Circuit, the school district did not raise that argument at all.”

Concerning the precedent for recording school board meetings, Shelton commented “there’s not really any sort of precedent we’re looking at. But as far as the ability for individuals, including parents, to record government employees, there is a host of precedents both in the First Circuit and in circuits across the country that say various different things about whether and to what extent you have the right to record a government employee engaging in their business, the occupation of the government. What we’re arguing for here is that individuals do have a First Amendment right to record government employees whenever that individual is lawfully present where they are.”

As to the public interest in the case, Shelton concluded “Video recording is itself inherently expressive and entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment.” Titta’s lawsuit, and the efforts of the Goldwater Institute may, indeed, give this element of free expression the attention it deserves.