Unit 5

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.


Kavya: Education, Exposure Key to School Inclusivity

new niot logo school.jpg

I’ve been in the Unit 5 School System for over 11 years, meaning I have gone to school with the same kids since elementary school. We all used to eat lunch and play during recess together; however, that feeling of camaraderie does not exist anymore.

I've experienced, as have many others, the realities of 'bias' as I've matured.

Ideas, people and the environment that surround us shape our innocent minds in both good and bad ways as we grow older. These external sources of influence could be new-found friends, teachers or even a parent's banter.

Influences that give rise to a negative bias often result in students becoming ignorant about and close-minded toward others.

What caught my attention when I first heard about Not In Our School (NIOS) was the use of the world 'inclusive' in the NIOS mission statement - 'building safe and inclusive environments in schools.'

From my vantage point, most of the uninformed attitudes in school are due to the lack of exposure to other cultures and differences.

So as President of NIOS, I focus heavily on making our club an opportunity for students to get to know more about the diversity of our student body.

We have held a Culture and Religion Fair during school and the one stipulation for the NIOS members was to choose a culture/religion you were not very knowledgeable about to become better informed.

As part of our meetings, we hold discussions on current issues to broaden students’ horizons and to hear different viewpoints.

Furthermore, we conduct outreach to Unit 5 elementary schools to start students thinking of inclusion at an early age.

Most of the funds we raise come from selling signs, posters, and pins with the mantra: 'No Matter Where You Are From, We’re Glad You’re Our Neighbor'. Seeing the signs in almost every teacher’s door has positively impacted our school. Students feel welcome especially because we have many immigrants.

I am overwhelmed by the difference we make in our school environment.

At NIOS, we are bipartisan and firmly believe that through open-minded education and cultural exposure, our school environment will become even more inclusive.

The importance of a school with culturally aware students is a supportive school environment where students are free to unlock their full potential.

On a personal note; NIOS has helped strengthen my leadership and speaking skills. I have gained so many new speaking opportunities which hone my abilities every time I have the chance to speak.

I've also learned that organizing events is tougher than it appears as is applying the art of compromise when dealing with students and adults who share differing perspectives.

If you want to get out of your comfort zone and truly grow, I highly recommend Not In Our School.

It has changed my outlook on the world.

Kavya Sudhir, Veteran Scholar
McLean County Diversity Project

Unit 5 Teachers Seek Welcome Declaration

Baylee Steelman


Teachers from Unit 5’s high schools are asking the school board to declare the district a welcoming environment for immigrant students and teachers.

Normal West teacher John Bierbaum, Normal Community teacher Patrick Lawler and NCHS freshman Aditi Sharma spoke to the school board Wednesday evening about passing a measure to declare Unit 5 schools safe learning environments for students regardless of their immigration status.

Bierbaum said feelings of safety are taken for granted by students who aren't immigrants or have immigrant parents.

"I assure you my conversations with faculty members, different colleagues and students ... they don't take it for granted," said Bierbaum. "It impacts them every single day, and they know where to go to for safety and they are measuring that every single day of their life."

Bierbaum said teachers in the district are here to educate students no matter who they are or where they come from. Sharma told the school board that students have diverse religions and ethnicities. She said no one should feel unsafe going to school.

"I'm an immigrant myself, and I came here from India," said Sharma. "I look forward to school because it's a place where I can learn and also have fun with my friends. I want everyone to (like) school like I do and not be scared because of their immigration status."

Board member David Fortner prepared a speech for the meeting. He said educators have a duty to bring wisdom to their communities.

"Let's love these children regardless of who they are, where they're from, or any perceived wrongs or mistakes their parents might have made. Let's love these children,” he said.

Board member Meta Mickens-Baker praised the resolution. She said students and faculty are working to build a culture of inclusion.

The effort to emphasize the district as a safe welcoming learning space for immigrants comes amid national controversy over immigration policy. District 87 schools implemented a similar measure a month ago.

The Unit 5 school board reviewed a draft version of the resolution Wednesday. It will return to the board for formal action next month.

Unit 5 Can Help Race Relations

Normal officials hope McLean County Unit 5 can help improve race relations in the town.

City Manager Mark Peterson told a joint committee of town and school officials Tuesday he hopes the district will help the town push that effort, which it intensified this month with the publication of a study on how to improve Normal Police Department procedures.

"Most African-Americans went to school, for many years, with an African-American teacher who understood them as an individual," said Chemberly Cummings, the first black Normal City Council member and a committee member. "Now, we have teachers who are coming out of suburban or rural areas never ever seeing an African-American until they step foot into the classroom."

She said that dynamic can lead to a culture of mistrust between students and authority figures that follows students after they leave school.

"They're already developed a mindset about police long before they've come to this larger interaction with law enforcement," Cummings said, "It's both our responsibilities to make sure all of our children feel welcome. ... We can develop true diversity and inclusion plans, not just window dressing."

The district is "looking at the idea of how do we integrate diversity training" and working to make its staff and administrators as diverse as its student body, said Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel.

He said he's seen the benefits of diversity training up close, through one of his daughters who was a student teacher for Chicago Public Schools.

"They went first to understand the community, then they went into the classrooms. ... She had no fear walking into a classroom or walking around Chicago."

"Because she had that kind of training, she looks through a different lens — I'm treating this (as), I see no color. I just see a student, I see a need, I see I'm there to be an adult who's there to assist.'"

Daniel said officials also need to consider "how are we going to bring people of color to our community."

That was part of a wide-ranging discussion as the committee met for the first time. Cummings, council member R.C. McBride and Peterson represented the town; board members Jim Hayek and Mike Trask joined Daniel for the district, which hosted the meeting.

The next meeting is expected to be in late November or early December at Uptown Station. The town will host.

The council and school board met there last month to discuss resurrecting the committee, which is intended to make both more stable and less susceptible to external obstacles like the state.

Both passed an agreement to hold quarterly meetings with two members of each body and annual meetings with all members.

NAACP, Town of Normal Partner for Civic Engagement Program

The Bloomington-Normal NAACP is partnering with the Town of Normal for the first Normal and NAACP Civics & Citizenship (NC²) program.

This will provide high school students (ages 13-18) the opportunity to come and learn about civic engagement in their community. There is no cost to participate. The mission is to spark dialogue between students and Town officials; this includes but is not limited to police and city council.

The program will take place on Saturday, Sept. 30; Saturday, Oct. 7; and Saturday, Oct. 14. Interest Forms will become available Monday, Aug. 28. Students must complete and submit Interest Form by Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2017.


On Saturday, Sept. 30, NAACP  will partner with the Children’s Discovery Museum to teach students that civic engagement is our duty. The students will participate in the World Wide Day of Play. On Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, we will partner with the Normal Police Department to teach Civic Engagement is Our Right.

The students will learn how to build relationships with the police, engage with police during every interaction, a day in the life of a police officer, and the exploration of law enforcement as a career. This will be an interactive day filled with candid dialogue.


On Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, NAACP will partner with the Town of Normal leadership to teach Civic Engagement is our responsibility. The students will have the opportunity to create their version of the Town of Normal 2040 Visioning Plan. The plan will be presented to some of the Town’s leadership. Every participant will receive recognition during the City Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.

This opportunity is open to all high school students in Unit 5. For more information,  contact Chemberly Cummings at chemberlycummings@gmail.com or (216) 570-0549.

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.

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.”

Not In Our School Making The Elementary Grade

Normal's Unit 5 and Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal continue to plant the seed of inclusivity and security in area elementary schools.

Fox Creek Elementary School has joined Glenn Elementary in flying the Not In Our School banner pledging efforts to stop bullying and bigotry.

Fox Creek Principal Dennis Larson recently presided over a school assembly introducing students to the NIOS program, which has also taken hold in Twin Cities junior high and high schools. Larson also has helped facilitate an effort with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Illinois, Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, and Promise Council to recruit added adult mentors, particularly men, to help at-risk students who need assistance with their school work.

Unit 5 officials and NIOTBN's Education Subcommittee are looking to bring additional schools into the NIOS program.

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.

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.

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.