District 87

Local Students Join National Walkout To Address Gun Violence

The Pantagraph

Photo by Mary Aplington

Photo by Mary Aplington

Students at several Central Illinois schools joined their peers across the nation Wednesday by walking out of their classrooms to send a message about gun violence.

Photo by Diane Peterson Mather

Photo by Diane Peterson Mather

The nation-wide walkout began at 10 a.m. and lasted for 17 minutes.

The event was organized to occur exactly one month after 17 students and faculty were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., by a former student wielding a semi-automatic rifle.

In wake of the massacre, students have risen to be some of the loudest activists for stricter gun control.

Hundreds of students at Normal Community High School, Normal West High School and Bloomington High School participated in the peaceful protest. Several schools in neighboring communities also joined.

“I am so moved by the students in our community,” Bloomington-Normal Not In Our School coordinator Mary Aplington said. “Their voices, their actions, their messages today have power and inspiration beyond their schools.

At NCHS, nearly 400 students left their classrooms and crowded on the sidewalk behind the building. Their event was organized by the Not In Our School group, Social Studies Club and Peace and Justice Club.


Senior Faithe Wenger spoke to the crowd, reminding them of the 2012 shooting that happened in a classroom at NCHS.  The shooter was a student. No one was injured and the building was evacuated.

“NCHS remembers. Our town remembers. When the practice tornado siren goes off the first Tuesday of every month, we shake,” said Wenger. “For the first 10 seconds our hearts drop to our feet. For that short period of time, we feel the fear that was present at Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas and Orlando. How can we make government feel that?”

Junior Tristan Bixby told the crowd how her brother was held hostage in the classroom at NCHS by the shooter six years ago.

 “I consider myself lucky. I still get to see my brother every day. I get to be a part of his life. That is not always the case in this country. It terrifies me to think that thought could have been a reality within my own community,” said Bixby.

As for future change, Bixby said “start small.”

 “Talk to leaders, send an email, sit down and have those difficult conversations. Find kids who don’t have anyone and be there for them,” said Bixby. “Before today we were just kids, but we are the future and we will be the change.”

As she encouraged her peers to vote and speak up, Wenger’s hand shook but her voice was strong.

 “We still need stricter background checks, need to raise the age to 21 for all guns, not just rifles, we need to focus on mental illness and protecting student lives and all lives,” said Wenger. “This is just the beginning for us, the generation of change.”

The students ended the event by chanting “spread love, not hate, we just want to graduate."

For the final minute of the walkout, the crowd took a moment of silence to honor students killed by gun violence.

Nearly 300 students at Kingsley Junior High School also participated.

Before the walkout, Kingsley eighth-grader, Sam Gathright, said she planned to hold a sign and have conversation with her peers to understand their views on the issues.

She said she chose to join the national walkout because “our generation has some of the most lives lost due to school violence and suicide.

Normal Community junior Ajitesh Muppuru, 16, organized students Wednesday in a demonstration in support of stricter gun laws following the deaths of 17 people in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14.

I’m not so much thinking about me and my peers, but for every generation after me that will benefit from my actions,” she said.

Students at BHS participated in a different way, leaving their classrooms to line the halls and stay silent for 17 minutes.

"It was a somber mood," said Fiona Ward Shaw, junior. "There's a time and a place for sitting in remembrance but we have to take action through legislative changes."

Freshman Jaylyn Haynes said it is "inconsiderate" for older generations to not take the students seriously because of their age.

"You're never too young to learn and express an opinion. That's one of the reasons behind so many of these shootings; people feel like they have to go to horrible lengths to get attention because they feel their voices aren't being heard," said Haynes.

School officials in some parts of the country have told students they will be disciplined for participating in the walkout.

But superintendents at Bloomington District 87 and McLean County Unit 5 said students weren't disciplined for practicing free speech without seriously disrupting the school day.

Bloomington/Normal Students Preparing for Walkout Over Gun Violence?

Ryan Denham



Plans are taking shape for Bloomington-Normal high schoolers to participate in a national walkout movement this month aimed at curbing gun violence in schools.

Both Unit 5 high schools and Bloomington High School are expecting students to participate in some way March 14, though plans are still in flux. Many participants in the national protest — sparked by the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida — are planning to walk out for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. March 14. The political goal is to get Congress to pass stricter gun control legislation.

It’s unclear if walkouts will occur in Bloomington-Normal schools, or if students will turn to other forms of demonstration. Some students have expressed concern they’ll face disciplinary action if they participate, although Unit 5 and BHS administrators say peaceful protesters won’t be reprimanded.

“We want to make sure it’s appropriate in regards to behavior,” said Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel, calling the walkouts a learning opportunity. “They need to re-enter and move back into classrooms immediately thereafter, (so) it’s not a major disruption. Very inappropriate behavior won’t be tolerated and shouldn’t be tolerated.”

Rachel Evans, a Spanish teacher at Normal West, said at least one of her students—a sophomore—is trying to coordinate some sort of demonstration March 14. Evans, who is politically active herself, said she’s walking a fine line in her classroom of not “unnecessarily influencing” her students while also encouraging their “ability to do what they believe in.”

The young survivors of the Florida shooting have publicly lobbied for new gun-control measures, appearing in media interviews to make emotional pleas.

“High schoolers are capable of making these kinds of decisions, and it’s time we integrate them into these discussions. Because it’s going to be important for them. They’re the ones whose lives are on the line every day in school. They’re the ones who should get to have a say,” Evans said.

Evans said some students are concerned about the prospects of being disciplined for participating. Sensing this worry, universities like Illinois State have told prospective students that “disciplinary action associate with their participation in peaceful protests will not impact their admission.”

“Some are just so concerned about what those possibilities are,” Evans said.

At Bloomington High School, Principal Tim Moore has met with student leaders who are still figuring out their plans. A joint demonstration with Bloomington Junior High School is possible, he said.

Moore said those who protest peacefully will not face discipline. Moore said he and some of his  students are interested in broader ways to approach school safety, although gun control is part of that. Students discussed what they can do to help social outcasts feel more welcome, he said.

“That’s what I want to come out of this. If we’re going to continue to keep BHS a safe place, every individual in our building has a responsibility and a role in doing that,” Moore said.


District 87 Approves 'Welcoming' Resolution for All Students

Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

Students worried about deportation or judgement based on their family’s citizenship were told they have nothing to fear while attending Bloomington District 87 schools.

The District 87 school board approved a resolution on Wednesday affirming the district as a welcoming and safe environment for all students, regardless of immigration status.

“The resolution doesn’t fundamentally do anything in terms of policies and procedures we already have in place, but it sends the clear message to students that you mean something to us and we care about how you’re feeling. We wanted to show in a very public way that we support you and we’ll do all we can to keep you safe,” said Superintendent Barry Reilly.

Reilly said there are “probably” students enrolled in District 87 who come from illegally immigrated families, but said he hopes the resolution will "alleviate any worries those students may be feeling" after recent changes to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

“This sends a message to the general community so those kids and their families know we have their back,” said Reilly. “The teacher in front of them in the classroom will be more important than anything we do here.”

The idea for the resolution was developed by a group of teachers who were approached by students who said they were afraid of deportation and being uprooted from their homes and schools.

Kim Taber, a teacher at Bloomington Junior High School, read comments from worried students to the board.

“I worry when I go home, I won’t see my parents and I’ll be left alone with my siblings,” Taber read from a student comment.

“It means a lot that the resolution was so strongly supported by the board,” said Taber after the meeting. “We want to see students feel successful in a country where they don’t often get that message. To hear it straight from the district is powerful.”

BJHS teacher Helen Brandon said students of immigrant families “often feel forgotten, devalued and an unwelcome member in the community.”

“We welcome you and care about you,” said Brandon.

“In a climate where outside voices are not always supportive and are sometimes frightening, we want to help kids hear, firmly, that they are wanted here with us at school,” added Julie Riley, BJHS teacher.

Gavin Nicoson, a freshman at Normal Community West High School, attended the District 87 meeting as a member of Not In Our School, a group against bullying and discrimination in schools.

“I feel that these issues and worries with students are more prevalent. I’m sure it’s hard for those students to go home where they are accepted and loved and then go to school where they are worried that people don’t accept them. This gives me hope,” said Nicoson.

McLean County Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said the Normal-based district has discussed the resolution with District 87, particularly how the district partnered with teachers to develop the message.

“Unit 5 will begin a similar process and we expect it could result in a resolution as well,” said Daniel.

Immigrant Alliance Training Plants New Seeds of Security

It's a challenging time for foreign-born students, amid politicized scrutiny of immigration and refugee issues and a flare-up in verbal and even physical attacks on students even by isolated teachers across the U.S..

NIOTBN thus met recently with Unit 5/District 87/University High students and staffers in a first-time immigrant alliance training session. Thirty U High, Bloomington Junior High and High School, and Normal Community and Community West representatives participated in what may develop into a communitywide "train the trainer" effort.

"There's a lot of work to be done," NIOTBN Education Subcommittee Co-Chair Mary Aplington maintained.

Helping lead the three-hour program was David Hirst, a member of The Immigration Project board and former head of Normal West's World Language Department.

Protecting immigrant students from individuals within the school is not the only challenge for families. The controversy over federal immigration officials ramping up arrests and deportations -- even venturing into schools -- spurred District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly to stress that while the district is required to cooperate with immigration officials, schools “would not let an agent meet with any student without the consent of a parent,” assuming an agent has no criminal warrant.

He said “in the end, FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) protections apply to all students.”

“Unit 5 has policies regarding interviews by outside law enforcement officers,” said Curt Richardson, that district's attorney. According to administrative procedures in the Normal-based district, interviews of minor students by outside law enforcement officers without permission of the parents is not permitted at school unless a legal process is presented.

Immigration arrests in cities such as Memphis, Tenn., have led to growing fears some families may keep their children home from school.

NIOTBN, Schools To Address Transgender Issues

As the White House draws fire for President Trump’s controversial proposals to ban transgender individuals from the military and disallow strategic civil rights protections for transgender Americans, NIOTBN and local schools hope to help to make the classroom a safer and more welcoming place for all students.

NIOTBN’s Education Subcommittee and Normal Unit 5 school officials and students plan to meet next week for a panel discussion on transgender challenges, from school restroom designations and use to questions about Skyward, a software system specializing in K-12 school management. Subcommittee Co-Chair Camille Taylor notes individuals are entered through birth certificates, meaning student records may not reflect current individual gender identity.

That can cause discomfort and confusion for transgender students in the classroom and other school venues, said Taylor, a retired local educator. Among other issues, NIOTBN hopes to address possible ways to reconcile “permanent records” with student identifications in its meeting with Unit 5 administrators, Normal Community and Community West High School principals, and student representatives.

Education Co-Chair Mary Aplington stressed the need for “policies across districts that are very similar,” noting Bloomington District 87’s existing strides in enhancing student inclusivity.

“We need collaboration at the top level,” Aplington added.

This spring, NIOTBN shared LGBTQ advocacy materials supplied by the national Not In Our Town organization with local school with community Not In Our School (NIOS) students and faculty “point people.”

More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws protecting students from discrimination based on their gender identity. In an effort to encourage their protection, an April 2014 letter from the Federal Office of Civil Rights clarified that discrimination against transgender students in schools is covered by Title IX and educators in schools across the United States are accountable for ensuring the safety and inclusion of transgender students in all school-sponsored activities.

Meanwhile, at the elementary level, several Unit 5 schools reportedly are eyeing the launch of anti-bullying/anti-bigotry NIOS programs in 2017-18. NIOTBN plans to participate in an Aug. 8 Back 2 School Party for Unit 5 and District 87 students at Bloomington’s Grossinger Motors Arena. The event, from noon to 4:30 p.m., will feature free school backpack supply kits and information from various community groups.   

Families must complete school registration and provide all health requirements for their children to attend the party.

Local Educators Emphasize Commitment to NIOTBN Goals

Education – of the public, of youth, of policymakers and officials – is key to eliminating bigotry, discrimination, and bullying. In conjunction with the Feb. 2 Solidarity Rally in Bloomington, local educators offered their support for NIOTBN and Not In Our School and their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and community security.

Unit 5

The Unit 5 Board of Education, together with students and faculty across our district and the community, resolve to stand up against bullying and intolerance and actively work to make our schools free from discrimination and hatred. 

We promote safety, inclusion, and acceptance in each and every building. Unit 5 students and staff members come from a variety of different backgrounds and speak more than 40 different languages. That diversity enhances the culture throughout the district. Regardless of background, we strive to educate each of our students to achieve personal excellence. 

Unit 5 enjoys an excellent relationship with Not in Our Town and hosts several Not in our School chapters, and will continue to build on that relationship.

District 87

District 87 supports the mission of Not In Our Town to work together to stop hate, bullying, and build safe, inclusive environments for all.  Part of our mission states that we will promote mutual respect and have an appreciation for student and staff diversity. 

As the most diverse pre-K through 12 district in McLean County, we take pride in our diversity and see it as a strength of the community.  We stand together with Not In Our Town to support students from all backgrounds.

Regional Office of Education No. 17

The Regional Office of Education No. 17 partners with many advocacy groups, including Not in Our Schools, to deliver the message that diversity, tolerance and safety for all of our students and staff in the school districts we serve is paramount.

We support efforts to promote acceptance and eliminate discrimination and bullying and will continue to do so.

Illinois Wesleyan University

Illinois Wesleyan University remains strongly committed to providing a supportive environment in which each of our students can become confident, participatory members of a global society.

We define ourselves as a diverse, inclusive and welcoming campus, with the understanding that education in the context of diversity – whether diversity of nationality, race, religion or thought – creates the richest learning environment. We respect and value our fellow students, educators and staff across geographic and cultural boundaries, and stand with institutions of higher learning throughout the country in insisting that it is critical that the United States continues to welcome scholars of all backgrounds and nationalities.

Heartland Community College

Heartland Community College is committed to being a welcoming and inclusive institution where all students, employees, and visitors are regarded with respect and dignity in a safe and secure environment.

As expressed by longstanding Policy, Heartland Community College provides equal educational opportunities to all students and equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, marital status, status as a veteran, or any other protected status under federal, state or local laws.

Existing Policy further states that the College expressly prohibits any form of harassment in the learning and working environment, including but not limited to, sexual harassment and harassment based on any status or condition protected by applicable law, rule or regulation.

District 87 to Consider NIOS Resolution

Bloomington District 87 School Board will consider a Not In Our Schools support resolution on Wednesday at the District Office, 300 E. Monroe Street, downtown Bloomington.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m., and the resolution is set later on the agenda. Come by and show your support. You can see the agenda at http://www.boarddocs.com/il/district87/Board.nsf/Public

Not In Our School is expanding into new local elementary schools as well as in junior high and high schools. In addition, Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal is exploring new university outreach and participation.

District 87 Taps Expertise To Address Social Media, Bullying

While Oakland Elementary School Principal David LaFrance reported bullying-related issues are “always a focus every year,” Bloomington’s District 87 is placing an expanded emphasis on the impact the Information Age – social media, cyberbullying, and the like – is having on students. the district also has hired a social media specialist to explore growing online concerns, he said.

“We have really looked at that avenue, and how we can support and be proactive and teach kids how to be appropriate with their use of the Internet and computers, because of the influence of social media and how it can influence bullying and truly hurt people,” LaFrance noted during Unit 5’s recent participation in the annual back-to-school West Side Block Party.

“Sometimes, kids make mistakes and make choices without realizing that the one thing you do, quickly, with the touch of a button, they can go out to everyone, and it’s forever.”

The addition of a technology specialist coincides with plans to roll out 1,300 new computers at Bloomington High School. The district is renowned for “one of the finest technology departments in the state,” with a BHS-based “iCloud” program that is helping shape school technologies across the state and, increasingly, the U.S.

Oakland Elementary School has implemented the SchoolReach CyberBully HotlineTM. The purpose of this program is to create an anonymous, two-way means for students, parents, guardians and others to report incidents of bullying, harassment, intimidation and information on potential harmful or violent acts by others. Oakland's CyberBully Hotline number is 309-232-8087.

LaFrance and others also continue to communicate the basics. Anti-bullying education begins with teaching students “how you should treat people in relationships,” addressing image issues that particularly affect older students, and “celebrating differences,” he said.

“Everybody has a story, and your story’s going to be different from mine, and that’s what makes us unique,” LaFrance stressed.

Block Party Survey Aims Toward Better Policing on the Block

As Bloomington residents partied on the block last weekend, volunteers at the 18th annual West Side Block Party canvassed celebrants on the best ways to better the beat.

At Saturday’s block party in the Bloomington First Christian Church parking lot, McLean County YWCA mission impact director Jenn Carrillo and her team surveyed Twin Cities on police-community relations and public attitudes toward law enforcement, as part of a larger YWCA/Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal project.

While locally, “we’ve been very good at responding when events happen,” Carrillo stressed continued need for a proactive approach in exploring “what work needs to be done so we aren’t ‘that incident’ on the news.”

“As you know, there’s been a lot of very publicized violence in the (national) news, and we want to figure out the patterns, the attitudes here in Bloomington-Normal,” she related. “We’re asking folks very neutral questions – basically giving them an opening to talk about experiences they’ve had with law enforcement here.

“Our hope is to get a lot more of these surveys filled out -- this is just kind of our dry run to see how people respond to questions. Once we have some good information, we plan to sit down with heads of law enforcement, share our results, and talk about some solutions we can collaborate on. I think it all starts with community policing, and the only way to have community policing is to have the community involved in defining exactly what that looks like.”

Rather than offer surveys online, Carrillo hopes to continue having volunteers share one-on-one, “face-to-face time with community members.”

The block party has over the years provided a range of community services, this year alone including distribution of 1,066 free school kits as well as school-approved free dental checks and dental supplies for low-income and other local children. Guests also had the opportunity to visit with representatives of community organizations, Unit 5 and District 87 school district officials, and emergency responders.

“We have shown though actions, through words, through relationships, that we want to be good neighbors, that we want to be more than ‘that church on the corner’ that people come to once a year to get school supplies,” related First Christian Associate Minister Kelley Becker, leader of NIOTBN’s Faith and Outreach effort. “We care more than about pencils – we care about their lives.”

Glenn Elementary Launches Not In Our School


Not In Our School kicked off at Normal's Glenn Elementary School Friday in an effort by the Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal program to reach children at an earlier stage.

Glenn Elementary held an assembly to kick off “Kindness Month,” during which students will be rewarded for acts of kindness, including defending against bullying. WJBC was on hand to interview participants in the program, which previously established a base in Twin Cities junior high and high schools.

"Just like anything else, the earlier you start the better!" NIOT:B/N Education Chairman Camille Taylor related. "The mission of Not In Our School is to stop hate, address bullying, and create a safe, inclusive community. Children at the elementary level, from kindergarten through fifth grade, can learn specific skills to be an upstander when they witness bullying.

"They can also learn the importance of speaking up and speaking out to make their learning environment safer. Students will become accustomed to this and expect/demand that their school environment be like this as they progress through middle and high school."

Jan Meadows, a retired teacher who according to Taylor helped NIOS "make the Glenn connection," stressed kindergarten is "the beginning of outside the family socialization."

"We start at the beginning," Meadows said. "That is where we start. When we expect high schoolers to succeed in algebra, we forget that once they didn't know any numbers. The same applies for social skills. When we teach the littlest child the language and the actions of inclusion, they accept it, they practice it, we reward and recognize their efforts and they will use it. "

"We often don't recognize that our brains are wired to search out danger in all settings, anything that looks or sounds different sets off internal alarms. But just like other biological responses the brain learns to accept and ignore these alarm triggers through practice and knowledge. These are skills we can and must teach our children."

Taylor reported Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 superintendents have given "100 percent support" to NIOS developing elementary-level programs on a school-by-school basis.

Haynes, Mendez, Funderburg, Brooks Honored at MLK Luncheon

Local adults and youth who've led the community in realizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s spirit were honored today (Saturday) during the annual Twin Cities MLK Luncheon at Illinois State University.

Luncheon Human Relations winners were:

Arthur Haynes of Bloomington, founder and coordinator of the annual West Side Neighborhood Summer Block Party, which has brought together people in the neighborhood. He serves on the Bloomington Housing Authority and on the board of the West Bloomington Revitalization Project. He is a member of the steering committee for the NAACP ACT-SO program.

Marcos Mendez of Normal, 2014-2015 chairman of the board for Conexiones Latinas de McLean County, through which he coordinated a school supply drive for low-income families. He partnered with Illinois State University faculty and United Way of McLean County to increase Latino parents’ access to bilingual/Spanish-language books to read with their children. Marcos has been involved with Minorities and Police Partnership.

I Have A Dream winners were:

Amari Funderburg of Normal, a senior at Normal Community High School. She is president of the NCHS Culture Club and is a representative at Not In Our School Club meetings. She serves meals at Home Sweet Home Ministries and collects donations for The Salvation Army.

Markus Brooks of Bloomington, a senior at Normal Community High School. He volunteers with the Bloomington Police Department Explorer Club, 100 Black Men, Sigma Beta Club, Back to School Party, Special Olympics, Cultural Fest and Sigma Gamma Rho sorority annual youth symposium.

Amari Funderburg, above, with Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal Education Subcommittee Chairman Camille Taylor, left, and co-chair Anne Libert. Below, Markus Deshawn Brooks with Normal Community High School Associate Principal, Nikki Mauer

Amari Funderburg, above, with Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal Education Subcommittee Chairman Camille Taylor, left, and co-chair Anne Libert. Below, Markus Deshawn Brooks with Normal Community High School Associate Principal, Nikki Mauer

Arthur Haynes, left, and Marcos Mendez, center, with other MLK Human Relations nominees, from left, Arlene Hosea, Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal's Mary Aplington, and Jesse Padilla.

Arthur Haynes, left, and Marcos Mendez, center, with other MLK Human Relations nominees, from left, Arlene Hosea, Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal's Mary Aplington, and Jesse Padilla.

Alli: Homeless Emergency Fund Addresses Local Students, Families

Each year, over 100 students and their families have been identified as homeless in District 87 alone. Our statistics speak from themselves:

2012: 123 homeless students

2013: 106 homeless students

2014: 112 homeless students

2015: 78 homeless students have already been identified

My name is Alli Gray and I have been teaching PE and Health for six years.  This is my first year teaching at Bloomington Junior High School.  

My career is beyond amazing because of the students I come in contact with every day.  I can’t explain how incredible these kids are. Despite many of the hardships that my students and their families face on a daily basis, they continue to preservere. They somehow find a way to see the rainbow in midst of the storm.  I see my students face struggles head on that NO ONE should EVER have to deal with, especially at their young age. 

This year, I was talking to some of my students about hygiene and expressed that everyone needs to look out for one another. I mentioned that some students may not be able to shower every day because they may be homeless so we all need to be accepting of one another and try to not pass judgment because many of us don’t know the lives that our friends lead outside of school. 

At the end of this class, I had a student come up to me and say “Mrs. Gray, I didn’t know you knew I was homeless (which I didn’t), but thanks for everything you said.”  Tears filled my eyes and my heart sunk looking into this innocent student’s face. All I could do was hug this student and let this student know that I would always be there to help and that things would get better. I can’t imagine the struggle my student is facing, but I immediately knew in my heart that I would do whatever I could to help my students in any way that I can for as long as I can.

And that is what brings me here, to creating this account. 

Because of the Bloomington School District Homeless Assistance Fund, staff members are able to provide support, supplies, transportation and care (medical included) for each of these students and their families. 

According to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, students who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence are considered homeless. 

 This includes: 

·     Sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason
·     Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations
·     Living in emergency or transitional shelters
·     Awaiting foster care placement
·     Living in a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings
·     Living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings
·     Migratory children living in the above circumstances
·     Unaccompanied youth living in the above circumstances

Check out the link below for a short video giving insight into the struggles of our homeless children, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KO3ec5qRub4

Please consider a donation to the Bloomington School District Homeless Emergency Fund, at https://www.gofundme.com/homelessbjhs. I am so overwhelmed by the generosity and love the community has shown and cannot believe my first goal for the BJHS homeless assistance fund has been surpassed!! This fund would not be possible without your incredible support. THANK YOU!!!

Efforts to raise money for the homeless students and families within Bloomington District 87 will be ongoing as support will continuously be provided to those in need. Please continue to share this page, spread awareness, and donate if possible! All my best! 

Local Schools Working to Accomodate Transgender Students

Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

the increasing presence of transgender students, more school district procedures are getting increased attention.

Local districts are prepared to accommodate transgender individuals while respecting the needs of other students, said Regional School Superintendent Mark Jontry. “Each transgender student would have an individual situation and districts will work with them, case by case,” said Jontry.

Federal Title IX, which began in 1972, is a law protecting students from discrimination based on gender in education programs or activities that receive federal assistance. That includes discrimination against transgender students. Recently, a school district in a Chicago suburb was under scrutiny for discriminating against a transgender male student who identifies as female.

The Palatine-­based School District 211 initially denied the student access to a girl's restroom and locker room. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) threatened to end the district's Title IX funding unless accommodations were made.

The district worked out an agreement with the student and the OCR: the student can use the girl’s locker room, and change and shower in a stall with a curtain.

Identifying as transgender and changing restrooms is not a simple switch, said Jontry.

“There is a process they must go through to demonstrate that change,” he said. In most cases, students must show proof of a new or amended birth certificate or a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Then, student and parents would discuss accommodations with the district attorney that would be reviewed by the OCR.

Hopefully, the student, parents and school would come to an agreement on what types of accommodations to make. It all comes down to what accommodations will work best for the student and district, while taking all other students’ well­being into account,” said Jontry.

Normal-­based Unit 5 has adopted an administrative policy, specific to accommodating the needs of transgender or gender nonconforming students. The policy prohibits gender­based discrimination and bullying, adding that each request from a transgender student must be managed individually with help from the district's attorney.

This was a recommended policy put out by the Illinois Association of School Boards,” said Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for Unit 5. “We wanted to be prepared because we know we have transgender students in this community, including Unit 5. We work with all of our students on a case­by­case basis and our goal is to respect the dignity of all students in the district.”

Superintendent of Bloomington District 87 Barry Reilly said when LGBT students come forward with concerns, the district listens. “The key is to sit down and speak with the students and their parents,” he said. “Together, we come up with a plan to ensure the child’s needs are met.”

District 87 uses anti­discrimination policies already in place to accommodate transgender students, said Reilly, adding the current generation is more welcoming than the previous.

“They recognize and accept differences in people. When older generations worry, younger generations scratch their heads and say, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

Bloomington Junior High School and High School also have clubs to support LGBT students, such as the Gay Straight Alliance. Many local districts also partner with the local anti­bullying group, Not In Our School.

NIOT Workshop Educates Students on Diversity, Respect

Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

Nia Gilbert was the only University High School student who took a day off school Thursday for a unique field trip.

She didn’t visit a museum or tour a courthouse. She spent the day with more than 20 other local students, sharing experiences and opinions about bullying and diversity at the first local Not In Our School (NIOS) workshop.

“We have so many clubs and groups at U High, which is great, but I’d like to see them taking more action instead of just discussing the problems,” said Gilbert, a U High senior. “I think this sort of workshop will help bring those changes we need to schools.”

Gilbert was joined by students and faculty sponsors from Normal Community, Normal West and Bloomington high schools and Bloomington Junior High School at the YWCA in Bloomington.

“The goal of this workshop is to cultivate student leaders, create collaborations among students and schools and provide a forum for youth voices,” said Camille Taylor, co-chair of the Bloomington Normal Not In Our Town (NIOT) education committee.

Twin Cities students participated in a Not In Our School workshop this week focusing on stopping bullying and promoting diversity. They were joined by area teachers and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leaders Camille Taylor, front row right, and Mary Aplington, back row fifth from right.

Twin Cities students participated in a Not In Our School workshop this week focusing on stopping bullying and promoting diversity. They were joined by area teachers and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leaders Camille Taylor, front row right, and Mary Aplington, back row fifth from right.

With help from the Regional Office of Education and NIOT, the day-long workshop included speakers, activities and discussion.

“Most schools have Key Club and Student Council, but those groups' focus isn’t to create an inclusive climate for students,” said Taylor. “When someone commits suicide or brings a gun to school, we say, ‘How did we not see this coming?’ It’s because we need groups of students and faculty to discuss and address these issues.”

Jay Shannon, Project Oz liaison coordinator with BHS, shared a project called “I See You” created by the HYPE Leadership Group at BHS.

He passed around a poster board with photos of HYPE students sharing their biggest insecurities.

“We should not see our insecurities and differences as weaknesses, but strengths,” said Shannon. “If we share our insecurities we can support each other.”

Amari Funderburg attended the workshop with the plan to strengthen support groups at her high school for future students.

“I want to learn things here and take it back to school and plant seeds,” said Funderburg, NCHS senior. “After I graduate, I want this sort of group to continue to flourish.”

Along with several peers, Funderburg was joined at the workshop by Bryan Thomas, NCHS track and field coach and NIOS sponsor.

“If you see someone being bullied, don’t be a bystander, be an upstander,” Thomas said to students. “Talk to your teachers. It makes us aware of what’s going on with you guys and helps us understand how to help.”

Between teacher presentations, students were eager to participate and share experiences and solutions. The sponsors sat back, listened and took notes.

“I’ve found that students are more open to diversity than adults,” said John Bierbaum, NIOS club sponsor for West. “In the midst of such polarizing politics, kids need the space and opportunity in school to focus on these issues instead of just rhetoric.”

NIOS Workshop To Focus on Safer Schools

In partnership with Regional Office of Education #17, Bloomington Normal Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal  (NIOTBN) will hold a Not In Our School (NIOS) workshop for local students on 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at the McLean County YWCA, 1201 North Hershey Road. Bloomington.

The mission of Not In Our Town is to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities. NIOS is a natural outgrowth of this mission, working to create safe schools across our country.  NIOTBN is affiliated with this national organization, and its supporters pledge to help erase bigotry and bullying from their workplace, from their businesses, from their classrooms and campuses.  NIOTBN hopes to foster a more inclusive community for all.

Through the efforts of NIOTBN’s Education Committee, Not In Our School groups are being established at many local schools. Bloomington High School, Bloomington Junior High School, Normal West High School, and Normal Community High School are among those that have adopted NIOSinitiatives. NIOS student members embody the mission, vision, and values of Not In Our Town.  

The first local NIOS workshop will:

● Cultivate student leaders representing five local schools;

● Create collaborative alliances among students, schools, and administrations;

● Provide a forum for youth voices and concerns;

● Develop deeper understandings of barriers to safe and inclusive schools;

● Facilitate the identification of actions that will result in safer schools;

● Empower students to be leaders and change agents;

● Identify and provide access to tools and resources that support schools’ efforts; and

● Create a structure for sustainability of collaboration among schools.

The Regional Office of Education #17 is partnering with NIOS and assisting with this workshop. YWCA leadership,  ROE #17 staff,  local police chiefs, and superintendents, principals, and staff of participating schools are among those who will participate in this collaborative workshop.

District 87 Hotline Showing Positive Results

Andy Dahn


Parents of District 87 students who are concerned that their child is being bullied now have a way to report that concern anonymously.

The district’s bullying hotline allows parents to submit their concerns to school and district officials through text and voice messages. While the messages are anonymous, school officials will still be able to respond to ensure parents that the issue will be taken care of. Superintendent Barry Reilly said while the hotline has only been in place for one week, it has already helped stop some instances of bullying.

“We’ve already seen the benefit of it,” Reilly said. “I think as people begin to get comfortable with the fact that it is truly anonymous, I think we’ll get more information, and more information is better. I’m sure I’ve got some principals who are concerned with the amount of messages that they could get, but I really don’t see that being a big issue.”

Reilly said the hotline takes putting an end to bullying to a whole new level.

“This is another method that helps provide another safety net, as I see it,” said Reilly. “It allows us to investigate and mediate if necessary, but we are certainly able to follow through and make sure that the needs of our kids are being met.”

Each school in the district has a different hotline number, which can be found on the school’s website.

Unit 5 Passes Procedures to Accommodate Transgender Students

Normal's Unit 5 Board of Education has passed a new procedure that specifically allows transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room for the gender they identify with.

Unit 5 School District's new procedures relate specifically to transgender and gender non-conforming students. Students are allowed access with a new or amended birth certificate, or a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Unit 5's Kurt Richardson explained that "we want to respect the dignity of all of our students and so that is one of the things that we did that we felt was important." He labeled the policy change "a good first step."

The district began drafting the procedure more than a year ago, after a former student suggested an update.

Illinois State University has similar procedures in place. A student, faculty, or staff member may use whatever locker room they feel "best aligns with their gender."

Bloomington's District 87 reports working to accommodate transgender students, as well.

'100 Caring Adults' Aimed at Encouraging Returning Students

For the third year in a row, The Bloomington Junior High School Promise Council will be sponsoring "100 Caring Adults." This movement will bring at least 100 adults to the junior high on the first day of school to line the sidewalks and show community support for the returning students.

The 2015 100 Caring Adults event will take place at 7:45 a.m. on the first day of school, Thursday, Aug. 20, at Bloomington Junior High School, 901 Colton Ave.

It is a great opportunity for your associates, employees and others to impact the lives of young people in our community by just showing up. Bloomington Junior High serves about 1200 students as the only junior high school for Bloomington District 87. The Promise Council is a collection of caring adults committed to supporting students through:

* Providing more adult mentors for students

* Increasing opportunities for parental engagement

* Meeting physical needs of students when they stand in the way of academic achievement

Events like 100 Caring Adults help to fulfil the Promise Council aims by introducing potential adult mentors to the school and increasing opportunities for parental engagement. In addition, it strengthens the fabric of our community by sending a message to our 6th, 7th and 8th graders that they matter to the community and we are all engaged in wanting to see them succeed.

Ample parking for this event is available at the Towanda Plaza on the corner of Empire and Towanda near the Bloomington Post Office. It is a short walk to the school from the plaza. There will also be a bus available to shuttle participants from the plaza to the Junior High at 7:30 a.m. Plan to arrive a few minutes early in order to park and catch the shuttle.

 Business and organizations are encouraged to wear colors, work specific shirts or other items that represent their brand or organization. Non-corporate supporters are encouraged to wear school colors (purple and white) to show their support. 

You can register as an individual or register your company or organization’s participation by following this link www.SignUpGenius.com/go/10C0D48A8A923A0FF2-100caring/10549093 to the 100 Caring Adults sign up page. Please register by Monday, August 17th. For more information you can contact Cheree’ Johnson at (309) 268-3504 or by email: cheree.johnson@advocatehealth.com or Mary Litwiller at promisecouncil.bjhs@gmail.com.

David: Addressing Bullying is Elementary; Prevention Often Begins At Home

Bloomington Oakland Elementary School Principal David LaFrance, a former Bloomington High School assistant principal, stresses "you see bullying all the way from the elementary school age to the high school age." All District 87 schools are "proactive" in raising awareness of bullying issues and prevention, via "positive behavior intervention systems, LaFrance said.

"Character education," focusing on appropriate behaviors, is an important part of the district's weekly curricula.

"Daily, we try to set incentives for kids who are doing the correct things to others and for others," LaFrance notes. At Oakland Elementary, students can earn "hoots" -- credits for positive actions that contribute to a better school environment -- that can be redeemed for special prizes or recognition or tickets toward a larger eventual reward.

But it can't end there, LaFrance emphasized. As adults, teachers, staff, and administrators must understand "how important it is how we treat each other." It's a message school officials are working to send home, where personal attitudes, prejudices, and behaviors are formed.

"Everything we do, we're modeling for the kids, we're modeling for other adults," LaFrance said. "It's not always when somebody's watching that we have to do the right thing."

Listen below to LaFrance's further thoughts on bullying prevention and how the dinner table is as important to that effort as classroom incentives.