Referring to students as numbers....

For a bit of a backstory, my daughter was going to public school up through 4th grade. This year (5th grade), I managed to get her into a local charter school that gets MUCH better ‘grades’ as far as education quality goes. To make a long story short, she hates it. It’s pretty work intensive and at the opposite end of the spectrum in that regard in relation to her old school. Her teachers and I have been trying to help her adjust and I’ve been trying to keep an eye on how she’s doing in school.

Yesterday I sent an email to her principal asking how she’d done on Monday because Friday had been an especially rough day for her. Well they sent an email to her teachers to ask how she was doing and included me on the email group. I read it this morning and saw something that really rubs me the wrong way. In the emails from both the principal and the teachers they never refer to her by her name. Instead they call her GH5, basically her initials and grade. I have NEVER seen any school do this and it really is upsetting me that they’re referring to their students as numbers. It’s not like it would be easy to get them mixed up. There’s under a hundred kids in the entire school.

So, is this something that’s normal or is there something seriously messed up with my daughter’s school? EVEN if they used the number internally (which I can’t think of a logical reason for) why in the world would they think it’s ok to refer to her as such when corresponding with a parent?

Privacy rights, probably. In my public high school, even emails from counselors only refer to students by initials in all the headings and tags. The names get mentioned only in the body of the message. I could see a charter taking things to the next level to “protect” a student’s identity in communications.

Now, if they called her that during a face-to-face meeting…

Assuming it is a public school ANY emails from the educators’s accounts are potentially public records. Couple that where releasing private information is a potential FERPA violation or at best a violation of privacy for the student it is very common to code emails this why. For example if I have discussed a student with a teacher or administrator and have to email a followup I use intitials and not names.

Maybe there is more than one child with the same name.

In 2nd grade, my teacher assigned everyone a number (1-18) that we used for everything, based on alphabetical order of last name. I survived. I can still tell you everyone’s number today 30+ years later. Interesting to note that when we graduated from high school 10 years later (after being consolidated with other classrooms and other schools into a class of ~250), Numbers 1, 2, and 3 graduated in that order in class rank. 4 moved out of town, and 5 and 6 were in the top 10.

When I got to college, I looked up my teacher… she’d gotten her Ph.D. in education and her numbering of students was a key part of her thesis. Reading her thesis was fascinating as I knew/remembered all of the people (#s) and stories. She is still one of my favorite teachers ever and I wish my children could have her as a teacher- and also could have only 18 kids in a class!

Definitely a privacy issue. Truly, unless they *call *her a number, you don’t have an issue.

Well I guess that makes sense. I don’t understand why they need to worry about privacy when discussing between teachers though. But I am glad to hear it’s a somewhat normal reason.

Just so long as they don’t call her 655321.

24601 came to mind first. And then there’s THX1138.

Few things have inflicted as much misery, heartache, and woe upon the world as a mistaken use of the “Reply All” button.

I’d also submit that we live in a world where a student is capable of hacking the school email server. (Or perhaps just shoulder-surfing an inattentive teacher.)

Exactly this. Nothing is private, and when things are computerized, the possibilities for misappropriation abound. If someone accidentally prints an e-mail that says “QR7 has parents with drug abuse issues”, its much more private than saying “John Smith’s parents have drug abuse issues”.

One misprinted e-mail, one accidental reply to a similar name, one hack into the system by a bored 13 year old, and your entire life goes down in lawsuits.

This is definitely not a privacy issue. With under a hundred pupils in the school, a pupil referred to by their initials and their grade is almost certainly as readily identifiable as if they were referred to by name. If you’re encoding information for privacy purposes, the code has to be cryptic.

To some people at the school, sure, but not to everyone else in the world. Keeping confidentiality from the former is likely not an issue; keeping it from the latter most definitely is.

I had some similar thoughts. Though I would still say it’s done for privacy reasons, it just hasn’t been thought out as well as it should’ve been.

The people who you are trying to keep the information private from are the people who may see the e-mail. And that group largely consists of people who know students in the school.

It’s true that if the email somehow comes to the attention of a Peruvian dentist he won’t know who “GH5” is. But, then, he almost certainly wouldn’t know who “Gloria Higgins” is, either.

Almost certainly, anybody who is likely to see this email who would recognise “Gloria Higgins” will readily understand who “GH5” refers to. This code provides no meaningful protection of Gloria’s privacy.

There’s a lot of “folk wisdom” in education, especially about legal stuff. It may not be effective privacy, but I am almost positive that the teachers perceive it to be, and this is their motivation, not any systematic dehumanization plot.

It doesn’t have to be one or other. I’ve worked in workplaces where there was an establshed convention of referring to colleagues (and, in writing, to oneself) by initials (on the JFK, LBJ, etc model). It was short, it was punchy, it was clear, there was no particular reason for it; it was just the done thing.

It may not- but that doesn’t mean it isn’t done for privacy reasons. In my work, I frequently deal with a state mental health agency. And in emails, they invariably refer to our joint clients by initials only. Even when there are attachments that have the full name, dob and other identifying information. The reason for the practice is privacy and although it doesn’t apply well to communications with my agency, it’s the convention in that organization to use initials only in all emails. Even if GH5 provides no privacy protection in a school with 100 kids, that doesn’t mean the same is true in a school with 1000 kids.

It’s true that anyone who is likely to see the email will know who GH5 is just as well as they would know who Gloria Higgins is, but if a lunch lady happens to come across a printed email , she might know who Gloria Higgins is but may not know whether she is GH5 or GH4.

As others have said, it it to protect student privacy. Emails on government owned computers are usually (always?) public records. So staff can’t put names in the emails without taking additional precautions to protect privacy. Since they included you, a member of the public, on the email they explicitly recognized that it is a public record.

You seem to assume that the laws protecting privacy require effective protection. Silly you. The rules around here simply say no student names, not that their privacy has to be effectively protected. It is all about protecting the staff from legal action, not about some mythical student privacy.