Ideas

Brainiac

Ethical dilemma: Recording students

In this July 2013 photo provided by Matthew Pollack, his son Ben Pollack poses at a swing set under construction in Topsham, Maine. Matthew and his wife Jane Quirion are fighting against a southern Maine school district to allow their nonverbal autistic son to carry an audio-recording device at school to ensure he's being treated properly. (Jane Quirion via AP)
Jane Quirion via AP
Matthew and Jane Quirion are fighting against a southern Maine school district to allow their nonverbal autistic son, Ben, to carry an audio-recording device at school to ensure he’s being treated properly.

The parents of Ben Pollack, a nonverbal teenager, want him to carry an audio recorder during the school day to ensure that he is not mistreated. On Monday, a federal appeals court in Boston heard arguments in the case, which was brought after his southern Maine school district, citing the privacy rights of other students, declined permission to record. Roll tape? Here are two views:

Carol Hay, philosophy professor at UMass Lowell: “One compromise between protecting the teachers’ and other students’ privacy and ensuring Ben Pollack’s safety and his parents’ peace of mind would be to allow Ben’s parents to send him to school with a recording device but have those recordings stored by a third party. This third party — perhaps a school guidance counselor, or even a neutral arbitrator not affiliated with the school district — could then review and interpret these recordings for Ben’s parents under circumstances such as those that motivated them to first request this device, when Ben was unusually upset after school one day.”

Zachary Rossetti, professor of special education at Boston University: “Having autism should not disqualify anyone from foundational human rights of self-determination and belonging. Attaching a recording device to one’s body encroaches on personal agency, may lead to stigmatization, and acts as a literal barrier to peer social interactions. How can you joke with your friend or share secrets when your/their parents are listening? I understand — and experience — concerns about the vulnerability of a loved one with significant needs. Yet, authentic inclusion may mean that all students face similar potential for negative experiences. The school should minimize these problems without impinging on students’ dignity or privacy rights.”

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In an informal poll on Twitter by @GlobeIdeas, 73 percent of respondents said the student should be allowed to wear a recording device, while 27 percent said privacy concerns were paramount.