A father did not have a First Amendment right to record an online meeting of school officials to discuss his child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Scott D. Pitta’s child attended a public school in Bridgewater, Mass. His child at the time received services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, meaning the child had an IEP plan. When the IEP team sought to discontinue Pitta’s child from these services, Pitta objected. He asked to record an online meeting in September 2022, but the IEP team denied his request.
Pitta, who is an attorney, sued school officials in federal court, contending that he had a First Amendment right to record IEP team meetings. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which a federal district court granted. The district court reasoned that there was no First Amendment right to film the IEP team meetings because such meetings did not take place in a public space.
Pitta appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of the defendants in its Jan. 4, 2024, decision in Pitta v. Medeiros.
“To start, an IEP Team Meeting does not ordinarily occur in a space open to the public,” the 1st Circuit wrote, distinguishing this case from Glik v. Cunniffe, which recognized a First Amendment right to film police officers performing their duties in a public park. “This Circuit’s cases have found a First Amendment right to record government officials performing their duties only when those duties have been performed in public spaces,” the panel wrote.
The IEP team meeting at issue here occurred in a password-protected virtual meeting space. This is a far cry from a public park, the appeals court reasoned.
The appeals court also explained that the meetings contained personal, private information about students, writing: “In addition, the IEP Team Meetings not only take place in non-public spaces and are closed to the public, but by their nature involve discussions of personal, highly sensitive information about a student.”
David L. Hudson Jr. teaches First Amendment law and constitutional law classes at Belmont University College of Law. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of more than 50 books, including The Constitution Explained: A Guide for Every American (Visible Ink Press, 2022) and The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012).
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