On the Odd Way We Name Special Ed Cases and Why People Hate Lawyers - Part I

confidential wasteImage by DaveBleasdale via Flickr

As I made my way through the 2009 special ed law cases (I know it's an odd pilgrimage, but hey everybody likes something), I was reminded of the odd way that we name special ed cases. I have often wondered about this.

The premise is that we need to protect the identity of the children involved. I agree with that, and it is clearly supported by law. IDEA requires that public agencies preserve personally identifiable information related to children with disabilities. §617(c). See 34 C.F.R. § 300.625. FERPA has similar requirements. 20 U.S.C §1232, et seq and 34 C.F.R. Part 99.

So ok we need to have initials in case names, but sometimes the effort is really half-hearted. (NOTE: you probably get it, but to be sure: the following examples are purely fictional.) Some courts do it well: For example AG by JG v. Looney County Board of Education. In some places it may be JG ex rel AG v. Looney County Board of Education. ("ex rel" is Latin; I'm not sure of the precise translation, but it means "on behalf of") Both of these examples work. The identity of the child is preserved.

But I have seen many examples last year where the name of the case hides very little. For example this tells me too much: AG by Gerl v. Looney County Board of Education. When we spell out the last name in the case name, do we not tell everybody exactly who we are talking about. Especially where the county is rural, we are personally identifying the kid, aren't we? Even if Looney were a large urban school district, how many special ed kids named Gerl could there be?

I want to start a movement right here and now to stop using last names in pleadings involving special ed kids. Are you with me people?

In the next post in this series, I'll give you an example illustrating things lawyers do that causes people not to like them.