Bridgewater father Scott Pitta sues B-R, appeals to U.S. Supreme Court – Enterprise News

BRIDGEWATER — Scott and Roxanne Pitta were on a virtual call with Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District special education staff during COVID to discuss an individualized education program for their son.

Scott Pitta told the group that he was video recording the meeting. The district’s special education administrator informed him that he couldn’t do that and ended the meeting when he didn’t stop the recording.

That decision has led to multiple court cases and now even a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Pittas, of Bridgewater, have filed a petition for writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to order the First Circuit Court of Appeals to send the case up for review.

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The meeting in question

The case revolves around a Sept. 20, 2022, meeting in which the Pittas were meeting with Bridgewater-Raynham Special Education Administrator Dina Medeiros and members of her staff regarding their son, J.J., who is autistic.

Prior meetings were held between the Pittas and the district, which wanted to remove J.J. from individualized education program special education services. But the Pittas argued in court documents that “several school district employees” said there was no data they were basing the opinion on.

Scott Pitta objected to omissions in the official minutes of the meetings and asked the district staff to amend the minutes, but they didn’t.

At the September meeting, Scott Pitta requested that the district video record the meeting due to what he considered to be previous inaccuracies in the meeting minutes. Medeiros declined the request, saying a recording would be “invasive” and wasn’t permitted by district policy, court records state.

Medeiros did offer to audio record the meeting, but Scott Pitta disagreed and told the district employees he would be video recording on his own. Medeiros asked him to stop recording and when Scott Pitta didn’t, she ended the meeting and said the district would be in touch to reschedule.

Scott Pitta said he only wanted to record the meeting for his own use to be able to review it afterward and make sure he understood everything and had a record of what was discussed. He said he’s struggled in previous meetings to follow along all the time and would at times be lost without his wife, Roxanne, who has a doctorate in special education and works in the Bridgewater-Raynham school district.

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The court cases

He initially filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts alleging a violation of his First Amendment right to record government officials in the performance of their duties.

The case was dismissed in U.S. District Court because the court found that Scott Pitta did not possess a First Amendment right to video record a private meeting with school district officials.

Scott Pitta then appealed the dismissal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. That court agreed with the U.S. District Court and found that Scott Pitta did not possess a First Amendment right to video record the meeting as it did not ordinarily occur in a space open to the public.

The First Circuit Court ruled that the district effectively argued that video recording the meeting would hinder their performance of duties because of the sensitive and confidential information that’s discussed.

“I never expected this to be an easy fight. But this fight is not about me,” Scott Pitta told The Enterprise. “My son will be out of school before this is resolved. But we also know just how disadvantaged parents are against a school district when they’re trying to get services for their kids.”

Goldwater Institute steps in

Scott Pitta, an attorney and former Bridgewater town councilor, is now backed by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative and libertarian public policy think tank located in Phoenix, Arizona. Goldwater is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Part of the organization’s work is defending the right of parents to oversee the education and upbringing of their children.

Adam Shelton, the lead attorney for Goldwater on the case, said there is a circuit court split right now in terms of whether video recording of government employees is protected by the First Amendment.

“We hope that the court will grant the petition and take a real look at this area and hold that the First Amendment does protect video recording,” he said. “We’re looking for a court decision that says video recording itself is inherently protected and that it’s entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment. And that, in general, you have the right to record government employees when you are lawfully present.”

Scott Pitta said the end goal is to make sure that parents across the country have the right to record their meetings with school officials.

“It’s patently unfair that a school district can just write their own set of what happened and then that gets accepted as de facto truth,” he said.

“Especially in a meeting like this. It’s online, I’m in my own house and they’re telling me I can’t record because they needed to protect the privacy of the conversation. But that’s absurd because the only thing we’re talking about that’s private is regarding my son.”

Bridgewater-Raynham school district’s response

Mary Ellen Sowyrda, an attorney with Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, who represents the Bridgewater-Raynham school district, said the district is gratified by the outcome of the federal court litigation.

“Both the United States Federal District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that persons attempting to video record confidential team meetings and thus breach student protection laws pertaining to confidentiality, cannot do so under claims of First Amendment protections,” Sowyrda said. “When requested, school districts afford parents of students with the accommodation of audio recording such confidential team meetings, and Bridgewater/Raynham consistently follows this practice. However, in this case, the demand to video tape a team meeting, as if it were a public meeting, was correctly denied, and this decision has been upheld throughout the litigation.”

Sowyrda said any other decision would have resulted in a legal outcome that could have exposed the disabilities and educational needs of students to third parties without students’ knowledge or consent.

“Indeed, an outcome which would have supported the plaintiff’s claims would have upended long established laws providing confidentiality to students,” she said.

Goldwater filed the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on April 3. The organization is awaiting a decision.

Enterprise senior reporter Cody Shepard can be reached at cshepard@enterprisenews.com.


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