A federal appeals court on Monday ruled against a Maine couple who wants to record the school day of their son with autism and a rare neurological disorder that affects his speaking ability.
The parents say their 19-year-old son should be allowed to carry an audio recording device in class so they can ensure he’s being treated properly because he can’t tell them about his school day.
But a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston sided with the school district, pointing to an administrative hearing officer’s finding that the recorder would provide “simply no demonstrable benefit.”
An attorney for School Administrative District 75 in Topsham called the ruling “well-reasoned and solid.”
“It certainly vindicates the fine educators at SAD 75,” Dan Nuzzi said. “The district has worked extremely hard to provide a quality education for the student at issue here.”
Ben Pollack’s father expressed disappointment in the decision but said he doesn’t believe they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court because the teen will finish school next spring.
“What I’m most disappointed about is that it’s still the school’s position that we are not necessarily entitled to know what happens around Ben,” Matthew Pollack said.
The teen, who is nonverbal, uses a device at school and at home that allows him to answer some questions or request things, but he cannot discuss events from his day, his father said.
The parents first pushed for the recording device in 2012, after the boy was unusually upset one day. They suspected something happened at school but got no explanation from administrators, they said.
The student’s mother told the district they would start recording his days to “have some semblance of peace that he is safe at school.”
The school told the couple, who are both lawyers, that the recorder would violate a ban on students using privately owned electronic devices and would infringe on other students’ privacy rights.
The appeals court said the Maine Department of Education hearing officer’s finding that the recorder would provide “no demonstrable benefit” prevents the family from bringing a claim under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The hearing officer said the recording device would likely be “disruptive and detrimental” to the student’s education.
Matthew Pollack said the case came down to a “procedural issue.” He said he and his wife never had a chance for a court to hear their claim that the law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities requires the district to allow the teen to carry a recorder.
“We’re still going to have anxiety about Ben,” he said.
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