BOSTON (AP) — A Maine teen with autism and a rare neurological syndrome that affects his speaking ability cannot talk to his parents about his school day the same way other students can. So his family is fighting for the right for him to carry an audio-recording device to ensure he’s being treated properly when they aren’t watching.
A novel case heading Monday to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which hears most New England cases, pits the student’s parents against his southern Maine school district, which says the recording device would infringe on other students’ privacy rights. His parents say they need a glimpse into his day so they can better advocate for him at a school they don’t trust isn’t always telling the whole story.
“Most kids can come home and tell their parents what happened at school or what the teacher had done or not done. He can’t do that,” said Matthew Pollack, the father of the now 18-year-old Ben.
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 argue that laws prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities require the district to allow him to record his school day. Because their son largely cannot communicate with them, they say he cannot benefit from his education the same way non-disabled students can.
The parents, who are both lawyers, 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 say. 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 the recorder would violate a ban on students using privately-owned electronic devices. Since then, two administrative hearing officers, a lower court judge and a jury have all rejected the family’s request.
“The plaintiffs have tried a number of legal theories under which to attach a recording device to the child and they have lost at every round and on every theory,” said Daniel Nuzzi, an attorney for Regional School Unit 75, which includes Ben Pollack’s school in Topsham.