Is it Legal for a Student to Record Class Lectures?

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In my state, it is illegal to record people without their permission. Is there an exception for students with disabilities who need to record class lectures for education purposes?

Many students with disabilities have difficulty with listening, focus, processing, note-taking, etc.  Recording a class would be a reasonable accommodation for these students.

If you are a high school student with a disability who has an IEP, the IEP Team is required to consider your unique needs and challenges and write any necessary accommodations in the IEP.

IDEA 2004 also requires that the IEP team consider a student’s need for assistive technology.

Many students use assistive technology in class when they need accommodations for listening and note-taking. The LiveScribe pen (a digital recording device) is commonly used for this purpose.

You’ll find more information about this in the blog post Assistive Technology for the Struggling Notetaker at http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/assistive-technology-for-the-struggling-notetaker/

Right to Privacy in the Classroom

In 2011 in Queen Anne County, MD, teacher’s found there’s “no such thing as private speech in a public school classroom,” when a teacher brought privacy concerns about using Livescribe pens in special ed classrooms to the School Board.

Tyson Bennett, a sped lawyer for the school board noted “several cases in which judges have ruled that what transpires in a classroom is not private speech.”

“When an Illinois special education teacher objected to her class being recorded in 2007 the U.S. District Court there ruled against her. The decision, which upheld those in two previous cases, was that “teachers have no reasonable expectation of privacy in communicating in their classrooms.”  (Plock v. Board of Education of Freeport School District)

A classroom in a public school is not the private property of any teacher. A classroom is a public space in which government employees communicate with members of the public. There is nothing private about communications which take place in such a setting. Any expectations of privacy concerning communications taking place in special education classrooms such as those subject to the proposed audio monitoring in this case are inherently unreasonable and beyond the protection of the Fourth Amendment.

Today, in Queen Anne County schools, Livescribe smart pens are used as instructional technology in classrooms.

Smartpens Help Students with Disabilities

For post secondary students with disabilities, Section 504 covers your right to reasonable accommodations to ensure full participation in educational programs and activities.

You will find examples of colleges and universities nationwide that approve smartpens as a perfect accommodation for students – they also provide the pen.

Your state and/or your school may have specific guidelines for recording class lectures. If you are in post-secondary education, contact the Disability Services office at your school for more information or assistance.

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6 Comments on "Is it Legal for a Student to Record Class Lectures?"

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Amazingly, I have negotiated Livescribe pens in 2 IEPs and 2 504s in one district. One high school in that district now refuses to allow the third 504 student to use it. They say it could be unfair to the teachers. Seems to me there’s already a precedent in the district.
Even weirder is that in my state, you can record with the knowledge of just one person – you. With all the smart phones, recording goes on all the time. Our Board Policy says that you cannot record in the bathroom or the locker room. Should be a fun meeting as we ramp up for the school year.

We have found that most sped teachers have been “brought up” on pencil and paper and are having a difficult time transitioning to technology. We have worked to use AT for several years and have learned that it works in some classes and not well in others. (There are no good AT writing tools for higher math…After several years of struggle we finally got an aide for that class only.) We asked repeatedly for a SMARTPEN and it was resisted, but we got it for this coming year as a kind of adaptive skill in our transition plan to college. For our other child with a writing issue, we found that colleges are good with it, as it is not nearly as powerful as iphones and ipads used routinely in the 504 world.

Up in The Air in our District

Our district hasn’t decided on this yet, but they seem to be leaning toward saying no. It isn’t the only the privacy of the teachers at stake. It’s the privacy of the whole class. We would love to believe that kids should, or shouldn’t, do or behave in certain ways, but in reality there are issues in classes. In that case the recording of the child that acts out (maybe a child with issues) could quickly end up public knowledge, on the internet, etc… which is a breech of student privacy rights. There is probably some sort of middle ground to be reached where recordings could be used in class, but it is yet to be found here.

The district does not allow the smart pen. My son is going to 7th. Instead he has copy of class notes on his IEP. As long as we have the notes to study from, it is fine. i just make him copy in what he didn’t get in class. The teachers do hate that he needs it. In 5th grade he had a lovely teacher who also liked the smart pen and we used it, mostly for math. She would do a problem with the pen and I would play it back during homework, it really helped. I would make a pen cast of two of him doing the problem, step by step and she could see if he actually understood or where he was going wrong. Her opinion was that no teacher should be saying or doing anything in class that they would not want recorded. I agree. If you can not self regulate your words and actions in front of the kids, there is a problem.

I know for many parents, with kids in the upper grades, that a teacher’s refusal to accommodate is frustrating and very problematic. Yet, I learned how to truly understand the role of union politics, school culture and climate in the upper grades. Parents have to understand who the power players are in a school culture. Many special education administrators and teachers can do little if a teacher refuses to have a child use AT. I have seen this first hand. It breaks my heart. Yet, Wrightslaw has taught me how to navigate through the system with savvy. By doing so, my child is getting FAPE. I am not a political person but when it comes to my child it has been well worth it for me to understand and make myself known to the change agents in my child’s school district. Indeed, it is a tiring process but worth it.

Mom of High School Junior

My son is dyslexic and taking college prep classes. He uses AT for homework. He has IEP goals for notetaking, organization and self-advocacy. Our district has repeatedly refused to include a smartpen in his IEP because some teachers stated they would not allow it. Instead the IEP offers a behavior aide as notetaker. Many staff members assume my son is receiving behavior intervention. My son cannot independently read the aides’ notes, and the aides have not utilized the funded time to review their notes with him. My son has made no progress on his goals for notetaking or organization. In April I signed the IEP, which had SMART goals, but reporting has been vague and untimely. I want to persuade the special ed director to remove the aide, add the smartpen and AT specialist support for my son’s goals. Please advise on strategy.

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