Lawsuits Filed Against Special Needs Student's Advocate

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Marianna- A Jackson County parent and advocate for students with special learning needs has been in the midst of a legal battle with the school district. The case is over whether or not she should be allowed to record Individual Education Plan meetings or, IEP's between teachers, students and parents.

For a long time, Pam Long-Bimberg has been attending and recording the meetings per parental requests. But recently, the school board refused to allow her to use her tape recorder in the meetings. Long- Bimberg asked why now after all this time, was she not allowed to use her recorder?

"What happened between June of 2010 and November of 2010 that started school staff refusing to be recorded" Long-Bimberg's Attorney, Rosemary Palmer asked.

Exceptional Student Education Director, Shawn Larkin claimed the recordings violated teacher's rights to privacy. But, Long-Bimberg maintained the only privacy rights affected were the parents or the advocate's, since the meetings only pertained to the student.

So the issue boiled down to a question of whether preventing Long-Bimberg from recording the meetings violated the federal Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act (IEDA). Both parties admitted there was no legislation in Jackson County that stated one way or another whether the recording were legal.

"There is absolutely no language that says you can record or not record. We can't make a recording, they are not entitled to record. There is specific language in the Florida statue that protects those rights. Now I think an issue is, is [the meeting] public or is it private" Larkin asked.

Long Bimberg argued that because taking notes was allowed in the meetings, the recordings should be too. She said the recordings helped students better comprehend the meetings and kept a precise account of the plans made.

Palmer told us that to her knowledge, this was the first time a school board had ever filed a lawsuit against a parent on this issue. It seemed to be the only statement both parties could agree on.

"In my 20 years I've never had a parent ask to record an IEP meeting except Mrs. Bimberg" Larking stated.

Depending on the judges ruling a potential subsequent appeals, the case could go to federal court. The board filed another lawsuit against Long- Bimberg last Friday for their legal fees. Both parties and Superintendent, Lee Miller declined to comment.

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