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How and Why to Tape-Record Meetings
by Brice Palmer, Vermont Advocate

We have been taping meetings for several years. Because we do so many, we use a micro cassette transcriber system with a small but good quality microphone. The one we use is a thin beveled square that receives sound from all four edges. The micro cassettes are small and for storage purposes, take up relatively little space. 

When we record the meeting, we speak into the recorder at the very beginning of the meeting and state the date, time, name or initials of the student, name of the school district and the names of each person in attendance at the meeting.

Dealing with Refusals 

We have a rehearsed tactic for occasions when a school district refuses to allow a taping of the meeting. 

Goes like this: First, we do not ask.

We just put the recorder right in the middle of the table and turn it on and make our identification of the meeting, etc.  If someone from the school asks us to turn it off, we pick the little square speaker up and with the recorder still running, we politely ask the person to speak directly into the microphone and clearly state their name and that the school district is forbidding that an audio record of the meeting be made. 

Usually what happens next is the person raising the objection says something like "I guess its ok."

Identification and Filing of Tapes

Identification and filing of the tapes is critical. Because they are not transcribed unless we need them for due process or other "proof" purposes, a clear written identification as to the student's name, date, time, what tape recorder was used, who operated the recorder, name of the school district and meeting type is put into the plastic box that contains the tape. That box containing the tape is then is placed into the case pocket folder file in a section we call "facts and notes." 

When we need to transcribe a tape, we first have the parent listen to the tape and identify each speaker's voice on the tape. We check and double check that identification when it is possible.

For the actual transcribing, we have it done by a notary public. By following this process, we have not yet had a transcript denied when properly offered into evidence at a hearing. Objections, yes, but never sustained. (knock on wood)

Tapes as Part of Educational Record

Often the school district will tape record the meetings as well. When they do, those tapes are a part of the student's educational record and we request the school furnish us a copy of all tapes they make of the meeting. This is useful because often the school's tape will pick up some comments more clearly than did ours. It also discourages convenient blank spots appearing in the school's tape. 

This sounds like a whole bunch of trouble and it is. We do it because it works -- and because good evidence (we refer to it as a clear record) can often be the leverage we need to help the district see the error of its logic and keep a dispute from going to formal hearing. 

It is surprising what people say during these meetings. We look for statements that contradict a later position, statements made against their own interest, etc.

The importance of taping meetings came home here today. In a rather heated matter now in formal proceedings, opposing counsel attached meeting minutes as an exhibit to her client's reply to our motion for partial summary judgment. 

After reading the exhibit, voices from the exhibit screamed out "Manufactured Minutes." Sure enough, we dug out the tape, listened, and would you believe the exhibit was not an accurate reflection of the meeting? 

Surely not.

Brice Palmer, Vermont Advocate

Other Articles by Brice Palmer

Learning to Negotiate is Part of the Advocacy Process. Parents negotiate with schools on behalf of their children. In this article, you will learn basic negotiation techniques that will help you be a more effective advocate. 

How to Prepare Your Case for a Due Process Hearing. If you need to request a due process hearing to resolve a dispute, your job is to present your case in an organized manner that gives the decision maker enough good factual information to reach a conclusion in your favor. 

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Revised: 07/13/16
Created: 01/03/03

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