Parents, ACLU allege a Nebraska middle school inappropriately outed a trans girl last fall

By: - February 12, 2024 3:46 pm

Protesters carry flags in front of the Nebraska State Capitol for LGBTQ and transgender Nebraskans on Friday, March 31, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A federal complaint is asking the U.S. Department of Education to investigate whether Nebraska school officials outed a transgender middle school student last fall without parental consent.

The new complaint, filed with the department’s Student Privacy Policy Office, with help from the ACLU of Nebraska, alleges administrators violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which prohibits schools from disclosing “personally identifiable information in education records” without written parental or guardian consent.

The U.S. Department of Education defines “personally identifiable information” through direct identifiers, such as name or identification number, or indirect identifiers, such as date of birth, that could be used to “distinguish or trace an individual’s identity.”

The ACLU states the case revolves around a 12-year-old trans girl’s parents who had a private meeting with school administrators at the start of the girl’s time in middle school in August 2023. They learned shortly afterward from the president of a private organization that he had just learned the girl is trans.

“Under FERPA, whether a student is transgender or not is confidential and protected information,” Grant Friedman, ACLU of Nebraska legal fellow, said in a statement. “Sharing that highly sensitive information without permission is a major violation of trust that can easily risk a student’s safety and well-being.”

The ACLU declined to identify the middle school in the complaint or provide a copy of it.

The family said in a statement that connections between the private organization’s leadership and the middle school’s administrators “leave them certain” that school officials violated their privacy, despite a “basic expectation” it would be protected.

Consequences in and out of school, the statement reads, “have been heartbreaking to watch unfold.”

“Our child deserved better,” the parents said. “We never want another child or family to face the pain we have because of abuse of information.”

Should the Student Privacy Policy Office find there is reasonable cause to believe that the family’s FERPA rights were violated, the agency can require corrective action, including mandatory training or revisions to school policy and procedures. 

Schools must comply with FERPA to remain eligible for federal funding.

“We hope for a swift investigation and appropriate action based on what investigators uncover,” Friedman said.


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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach rejoins the Nebraska Examiner after studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, following a yearlong Examiner internship. His coverage focus areas have included politics and government, health and well-being and higher education.