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Tape record your meetings.

posted Jan 6, 2012, 3:19 PM by Diane Willcutts   [ updated Apr 14, 2013, 10:37 AM ]
Some parents worry that this will seem "adversarial."  However, if you record PPTs all the time, this is no big deal.  Most school teams are accustomed to parents doing this, and many will even bring their own recorder. Very rarely, an administrator will try to discourage the parents, saying that the tape recorder will inhibit the PPT discussion, etc.  But that's not typical.  And we have always ended up being able to record.  

(Quite frankly, I am amazed by what people will say on tape.  Initially, we assumed this would cause everyone to be on their best behavior, inhibiting the more outrageous comments.  But too frequently, we have seen that this is not the case.)

So why record?
  • It can help parents process what occurred in the meeting.  Many parents say that they come out of PPTs not sure what was actually decided.  Or there was so much information, they couldn't keep up.  Listening to the recording will help parents to be able to better participate as equal members of their child's team.
  • It can help clear up miscommunication.  Sometimes, after the meeting, school staff and parents don't agree about what was said.  When this happens, parents can go back and listen to the recording.  Sometimes we end up saying, "Oh, that's why.  There was a genuine misunderstanding."
  • When the family is drafting their thank-you-for-the-meeting letter, the recording is an important memory aid.  It's important to be ruthlessly accurate in letters.  Credibility is everything.
But you didn't say that recordings are good evidence for a hearing?

I can't say this, as I am aware that some hearing officers will not admit recordings as evidence.  The reasons vary, but we often hear that it's too difficult to tell who was speaking.  And really, do we expect the hearing officer to listen to a two-hour meeting, hunting for relevant facts?  And if the parent edits the recording to include only the relevant facts, there is a risk the statements were taken out of context.  Etc.

Some recommend having the recording transcribed, which may be more likely to be admitted as evidence; but the transcription is very expensive and is just not needed for a lot of meetings.

No matter what, don't rely on the recording or even a transcript as your sole "proof" of what occurred.  Always write a thank-you-for-the-meeting letter to the school, documenting important areas of agreement and disagreement.  If you send a letter and the district does not write back contradicting you, it is assumed that they are in agreement with what you wrote.

Additional Tips
  • Let the District know in advance that you will be recording, as the District may want to do this too.  (Dueling tape recorders!)  If you surprise the District, you may end up losing 15 minutes of meeting time while the school team tracks down a recorder and sets up.
  • Make sure you put the recorder in plain sight at the meeting and let people know that you are recording.  Definitely never secretly record people, as this is illegal in Connecticut.  (States vary.)
  • Be very matter-of-fact about recording.  This is not a big deal.  Really.
Added April 14, 2013:
The state's "Parent's Guide to Special Education in Connecticut" also indicates that parents have a right to record meetings.  See Page 4.  
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