Supporting transgender students’ choice in K-12 education

Young adult female student sitting at home desk looking at books and taking notes

Within a school setting, where students are continually figuring out how to fit in while finding their individual voice, allowing transgender students the ability to be identified by the gender they wish speaks volumes. As both a marketer in the education space and a board member for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the United State’s largest civil rights organization fighting for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) equality, I’m proud to work for an organization that has truly embodied its motto of “Always Learning.”

Befitting of a month that recognizes both bullying awareness and coming out, this October, a team from Connections Education, a Pearson provider of online and blended learning solutions for grades K-12, will share its journey on creating a more inclusive space for transgender students at the annual International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Blended and Online Learning Symposium. I have the honor of serving as moderator for this panel discussion.

While much of the news around creating supportive environments for transgender students (and adults for that matter) has been centered around brick and mortar spaces, particularly bathrooms, it’s vital to understand what implications inclusivity has on other environments as well. At the heart of what Connections Education did for the online and blended schools it supports was allowing for transgender students to identity how they wish to be identified.

“Particularly in a virtual environment, use of a student’s preferred first name is crucial in feeling accepted and understood for students who identify as transgender. Our efforts at CE to accommodate a preferred first name and preferred gender for these students, while still preserving the legal information for state reporting, was a huge priority. We worked across departments to ensure the mechanisms were in place and protocols and procedures were understood by all staff to legally and ethically support students and families.”  – Tisha Green Rinker, Director of Counseling

When I’m at a volunteer event or board meeting for HRC, we often start out with introductions. “Hello, my name is Khoa Nguyen. My preferred gender pronouns are he/him/his…” I myself am a cisgender gay man — cisgender meaning my gender identity conforms with my biological sex — so the implications of stating my own gender pronouns might seem minimal; but for a transgender person, this is a powerful statement that usurps any assumptions about their gender identity. Similarly, giving students the choice to change their preferred name to coincide with their preferred gender allows them to speak and be called upon by teachers and peers in a way they feel comfortable and secure.

“When considering the legal landscape related to the separate topics of student data privacy in public schools and LGBTQ students, Connections Education has invested time in developing protocols that help school staff navigate requests for use of a preferred first name and gender in a manner that respects a student’s privacy while working within the current legal framework.”  – Victoria Sulerzyski, Esquire, CIPP/US, Director, School Legal Affairs

In learning about how Connections Education went about tackling this new challenge, I was impressed at the attention they took in understanding how inclusivity touched all segments of how we protect students — from data privacy to training for school counselors. It’s also impressive to me that those involved with ushering in these changes are motivated to take the conversation beyond our organization so that others can learn from the processes and policies Connections Education has put into place. In fact, Tisha Rinker will be on a recently accepted panel discussion in March 2017 at the SXSWedu conference! I again have the privilege of moderating this panel discussion where we’ll expand the dialogue to include a principal from a Louisville, KY brick and mortar high school as well as the director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools program.


If you’re going to be in San Antonio or Austin for our upcoming panel discussions, we hope to see you there. If not, participate in the conversation and follow us online at #EqualityForward, #ItStartsWithEducation, or #AlwaysLearning.


About the Author

Khoa Nguyen has been with Pearson for almost two years as marketing manager for online K-12 private school International Connections Academy (iNaCA). He is also a national board of governor for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and has a passion for music education. He holds an MBA, an MA in arts administration, and an MM in trumpet performance from the University of Cincinnati.