WBEZ | Illinois schools http://www.wbez.org/tags/illinois-schools Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Suburban school board backs off transgender protections http://www.wbez.org/news/suburban-school-board-backs-transgender-protections-104461 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS6834_East Aurora 069-scr.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The school board of East Aurora voted Monday to dissolve <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/east-aurora-school-district-announces-new-committee-wake-transgender-controversy-103499" target="_blank">a committee it formed in October to advise the district on transgender issues</a>.</p><p>The move comes just months after the district <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/turnabout-east-aurora-school-board-tosses-out-transgender-protections-103300" target="_blank">withdrew a policy</a> that would have allowed students to use their preferred names and gender pronouns. It would have also allowed students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with or be provided with the option of a private bathroom.</p><p>Although many turned up at early meetings to express their support for <a href="https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=33042109" target="_blank">the rescinded policy</a>, it has since sparked ongoing protest from parents at public meetings, including Monday&rsquo;s school board meeting. Reportedly upwards of 100 members of the public showed up.<iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F71866034"></iframe></p><p>Most were there to continue their protest of any policy that would allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.</p><p>&ldquo;I would say what they were trying to tell us was, you know, a girl going into a boys&rsquo; bathroom or a boy going into a girls&rsquo; bathroom...the parents didn&rsquo;t feel that the school could control that,&rdquo; said school board president Annette Johnson.</p><p>But Vera Verbel, a transgender woman from a nearby suburb who attended the last committee meeting to speak out in favor of a policy, said she thinks parents&rsquo; fears are misinformed.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s an implication that transgender people for some reason are dangerous, and will cause harm to those who aren&rsquo;t transgender,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Verbel said she was booed by the audience at the meeting when she identified herself as a Christian.</p><p>&ldquo;I said, I can&rsquo;t believe you would be this way, you would freely accept God&rsquo;s grace for yourself, but you won&rsquo;t extend it for me? Shame on you,&rdquo; Verbel said. &ldquo;And that kind of quieted things down a bit.&rdquo;</p><p>Johnson and others who support dissolving the committee point to anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies the district already has in place.</p><p>The state of Illinois requires public school districts to have anti-bullying policies, and in 2010 gender identity was added as a protected class.</p><p>Since the October controversy over transgender protections, the district has updated <a href="https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=32683916" target="_blank">those policies</a> accordingly.</p><p>Johnson said she has heard about two transgender students, one middle and one elementary school student, whose parents have raised the need for support within their schools. But she said those conversations never made it to the school board, and she believes the individual schools will support those students&rsquo; needs.</p><p>&ldquo;Whether they&rsquo;re transgender or not, [students] need to be protected, they need to have safety. They don&rsquo;t need to be bullied, and I get that,&rdquo; said Pat McManus, senior pastor at Kingdom Impact Center in Aurora.</p><p>McManus sat on the 22-person committee along with other leaders from within and beyond Aurora, but he supported the district&rsquo;s decision to dissolve it.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think you need to change a whole policy for a school district just for one or two people,&rdquo; McManus said.</p><p>He also said he did not recall any booing or heckling at committee meetings.</p><p>Statistically, it is very difficult to establish how many people are transgender - estimates range between one in 12,000 to one in 50.</p><p>But one thing is proven: transgender students are disproportionately likely to experience harassment at school.&nbsp;</p><p>A <a href="http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/2897.html" target="_blank">recent national survey</a>&nbsp;says 80 percent of transgender students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender identities, and nearly 40 percent of LGBT students reported feeling unsafe in locker rooms and bathrooms.</p><p>And one study says the&nbsp;<a href="http://http://transequality.org/PDFs/Executive_Summary.pdf" target="_blank">suicide rate among transgender people</a> is 26 times the rate among the general population.</p><p>Johnson said the East Aurora School District will enforce anti-bullying policies already in place, rather than passing a policy specific to transgender students.</p><p>&ldquo;We just needed to finally put this to rest and let the staff get back to working on the test scores and things like that,&rdquo; Johnson said.</p></p> Tue, 18 Dec 2012 19:22:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/suburban-school-board-backs-transgender-protections-104461 East Aurora School District announces new committee in the wake of transgender controversy http://www.wbez.org/news/east-aurora-school-district-announces-new-committee-wake-transgender-controversy-103499 <p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="348" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/52432249?badge=0" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>(Slideshow: Parents and community members talk about what Aurora is like for transgender students.)</em></p><p>The East Aurora School District has announced that a committee will hold its first meeting Nov. 8 to discuss potential new anti-bullying and discrimination policies.</p><p>The formation of the committee comes in the wake of a controversy in which <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/turnabout-east-aurora-school-board-tosses-out-transgender-protections-103300">the school board passed and then rescinded a policy</a> on transgender students in just five days&rsquo; time, and one key administrator was placed on leave for her part in developing the initial policy.</p><p><a href="http://https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=33042109">The policy</a> would have allowed transgender students to use their preferred names and pronouns at school, and to have access to bathrooms and locker rooms aligned with the gender they identify with. It also stipulated that transgender students had a right to privacy, and said they could be out at school without having their parents notified.</p><p>District spokesman Clayton Muhammad said Monday that the committee will be selected by board members and administrators, but meetings will be open to the public. He said the new committee will develop an &ldquo;all-inclusive&rdquo; anti-discrimination policy for students, but will not necessarily address issues specific to transgender students.</p><p>During the week of Oct. 15-19, the East Aurora school board received hundreds of calls and emails in protest of the policy &ndash; many from outside of the district. One conservative group called it &ldquo;a radical policy on gender confusion&rdquo; in a <a href="http://illinoisfamily.org/education/aurora-east-high-school-board-of-education-adopts-radical-policy-on-gender-confusion/">web post</a> asking its members to send emails.</p><p>But when over twenty people from the area spoke at a packed public board meeting Oct. 19, almost all spoke out in favor of keeping the protections in place. At least one suggested forming a committee to address the issue.</p><p>Advocates in favor of the transgender protection believe the district rescinded the policy because of pressure from outsiders.</p><p>The district said they rescinded it because they did not fully understand its implications and were not prepared to implement it.</p><p>And some parents said the new protections seemed like they should be uncontroversial, because East Aurora was already a supportive place for LGBTQ students.</p><p>What happened in East Aurora?<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6612_East%20Aurora%20035-scr.jpg" style="height: 210px; width: 280px; float: right; " title="East Aurora High School (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p><strong>&quot;They never said their kids were being bullied&rdquo;</strong></p><p>In the few days between passing and rescinding the policy, East Aurora School Board President Annette Johnson estimates the board received over a thousand communications, mostly emails, about the protections for transgender students. The Illinois Family Institute, a conservative Christian ministry designated as a &ldquo;hate group&rdquo; by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was behind at least a few hundred of these communications.</p><p>But Johnson said it wasn&rsquo;t those calls that led to the school board&rsquo;s quick turnabout on the issue.</p><p>&ldquo;Here&rsquo;s the big thing that I want to point out to everybody,&rdquo; Johnson said, &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t have an issue with us rewriting the policy.&rdquo; She says that&rsquo;s the task the new committee will take on. But when it was passed, she said, the district was unprepared: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just that that particular policy on that particular day...we did not have a prayer of implementing that program. You can&rsquo;t put a policy in place before people get trained.&rdquo;</p><p>Johnson also said the board was misled by an administrator to believe they were just updating policies to meet state requirements.</p><p>That administrator, Dr. Christie Aird, was placed on administrative leave nearly two weeks ago. Johnson said the leave was a result of Aird&rsquo;s part in passing the policy. District representatives had no comment and Dr. Aird has not returned calls.</p><p>Aird worked with other administrators and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, an LGBT youth advocacy group, to develop the policy over several months. According Alliance leaders, the process was initiated after a parent with a young transgender child in the district sought the help of school administrators.</p><p>&ldquo;I was approached by an outside organization and by Dr. Aird, saying hey, we&rsquo;ve got a gender nonconforming student, and we want to make sure that East Aurora is prepared to support transgender students,&rdquo; said David Fischer, the Alliance&rsquo;s program manager.</p><p>The Alliance provided Aird with model policies and advised her on the one she brought to a school board committee chaired by Annette Johnson in July. Johnson&rsquo;s committee unanimously approved the new policy in October after district lawyers gave it the go-ahead.</p><p>The same committee looked at proposed changes to the district&rsquo;s <a href="https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=32683916">anti-bullying policy</a> in July. East Aurora has yet to update it to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected groups, an update required by the state of Illinois as of 2010. When Aird brought the transgender policy to the board, she also brought this proposed change. Johnson said the board still plans to vote on a new bullying policy.</p><p>But Johnson also said she thinks the district is already doing a good job dealing with bullying and said no parents had come forward to the contrary. Even the parents expressing support for the transgender protections, she said, &ldquo;never said their kids were being bullied.&rdquo;</p><p>Some of the confusion on all sides may stem from the fact that the transgender policy passed in East Aurora was not exactly an anti-bullying policy, nor was it an update required by the state of Illinois. Most of it focused on the responsibilities of teachers and administrators to accommodate and protect students who are out as transgender at school by allowing them to participate in school activities under their preferred name and gender.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6610_East%20Aurora%20011-scr.jpg" style="height: 210px; width: 280px; float: left; " title="Dr. Amanda Lowe (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /><strong>Are transgender students safe in Aurora?</strong></p><p>&ldquo;The district in general, and the community, are very, very protective of the students,&rdquo; said Dr. Amanda Lowe, a psychologist whose daughter attends East Aurora High. &ldquo;So this was sort of a shock...it was exactly the opposite of the way they usually respond to these types of issues.&rdquo;</p><p>East Aurora or District 131 is a small school district contained within the larger city of Aurora, a municipality of nearly 200,000 people. Aurora&rsquo;s kids attend schools in <a href="http://www.aurora-il.org/links.php">six different districts</a>. Of about 14,000 students in District 131, 84 percent are Latino, 8 percent are black, and 5 percent are white. Many students are poor and many have parents who are undocumented; Lowe says the district&rsquo;s protectiveness extends to issues like deportation raids and dropout rates. East Aurora High has an active Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), mental health services and an anti-bullying program in partnership with an <a href="http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_prevention_program.page?menuheader=9.">outside organization</a>.</p><p>Lowe has lived in Aurora for fifteen years. She said she moved to the community because she liked its diversity, its schools, and its progressive politics. She is bisexual, and she works with LGBTQ-identified clients as well as East Aurora students in her professional practice. When she and her daughter &ndash; whom she describes as &ldquo;also not straight&rdquo; &ndash; found out about the policy, she said they &ldquo;had a little celebration.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The next morning,&rdquo; Lowe said, &ldquo;it was gone. There was an article saying there had been some kind of backlash.&rdquo; After being contacted by the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, Lowe attended the public meeting a few days later and spoke in favor of keeping the policy.</p><p>Asked whether she might become a member of the new committee, she said she doubts she&rsquo;ll get a call.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think they [the school board] like me very much,&rdquo; Lowe said.</p><p>Sandra Conti is a mental health therapist who has lived in Aurora for seventeen years. Her son, who is transgender, goes to school in Aurora in District 204, which is east of District 131 and extends into Naperville.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6613_East%20Aurora%20046-scr.jpg" style="height: 180px; width: 240px; float: right; " title="Sandra Conti (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p>She said her son has encountered some difficulty with students and teachers at school, but she believes he&rsquo;s had an easier time because of her advocacy.</p><p>&ldquo;The frustrating part for me are adults who do nothing,&rdquo; she said in an interview at the home of a friend. &ldquo;In my school they do attend to it, but I&rsquo;ll be honest, I think they attend to it because I&rsquo;ve been so active in the school district.&rdquo;</p><p>While Conti&rsquo;s son has chosen to stay at his school despite some difficulty, she says bathrooms, locker rooms, and pronouns were all issues at first. Before he came out and was given access to a private locker room, she said, &ldquo;he was to the point where I worried about suicide.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;He spent two and a half years in hell,&quot; she said. &quot;Sad to say, but we need the policies for adults to step up to the plate.&rdquo;</p><p>Nationwide, transgender people report a high rate of harassment and discrimination for their gender identities. The <a href="http://transequality.org/PDFs/Executive_Summary.pdf">suicide rate among transgender people is 41%</a>, 26 times the rate among the general population. A <a href="http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/2897.html">national survey</a>&nbsp;published by Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in 2011 said 80% of transgender students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender identities, and nearly 40% of LGBT students reported feeling unsafe in locker rooms and bathrooms.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6615_East%20Aurora%20072-scr.jpg" style="height: 210px; width: 280px; float: left; " title="West Aurora High School (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />In West Aurora, just across the river from the east side, the main high school has had a GSA group for eight years; it changed its name to Spectrum this year. The group&rsquo;s advisor, Joe Maston, said he has never had any problem with the administration and believes the school is generally protective of LGBTQ students. But if a policy like the one in East Aurora were passed at West, he said, &ldquo;it would bring the controversy to the forefront, I&rsquo;m sure. I&rsquo;m sure there are many people who would be upset on both sides.&rdquo;</p><p>Maston also said he knows students don&rsquo;t always bring their concerns to teachers, even the ones with a reputation for being supportive.</p><p>&ldquo;If someone came to me tomorrow and said, &lsquo;what are you talking about, all these terrible things happen all the time&rsquo;...I guess I don&rsquo;t know if I would be surprised or not.&rdquo;</p><p>See our slideshow (above) for more from parents and community members about what Aurora is like for LGBT students.</p></p> Tue, 30 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/east-aurora-school-district-announces-new-committee-wake-transgender-controversy-103499 In turnabout, East Aurora school board tosses out transgender protections http://www.wbez.org/news/turnabout-east-aurora-school-board-tosses-out-transgender-protections-103300 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/600-protest.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The East Aurora School Board voted Friday to rescind a policy on transgender students passed just five days before.</p><p>The <a href="https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=33042109" target="_blank">policy</a>&nbsp;aimed to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming students&rsquo; right to privacy, and would have asked teachers to respect students&rsquo; pronoun and name choices. It would also have mandated that the school find a way to include transgender students in sports and physical education without forcing them to disclose their identities or use facilities that don&rsquo;t fit their gender identities.</p><p>The policy would have asked school administrators to deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis. It was passed unanimously&nbsp;by the small suburban school board on Monday, Oct. 15.</p><p>By Wednesday the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a conservative Christian ministry, had put out a call for protest. According to Laurie Higgins, the IFI&rsquo;s Cultural Analyst, her <a href="http://illinoisfamily.org/education/aurora-east-high-school-board-of-education-adopts-radical-policy-on-gender-confusion/" target="_blank">post on the topic</a> generated hundreds of emails to the small school district demanding they get rid of the protections for transgender students.</p><p>In just a few days&rsquo; time, the school board of East Aurora called a meeting at which they voted unanimously to withdraw the policy. Dozens of parents and community members spoke at the meeting. According to news reports, most spoke out in favor of keeping the protections for transgender students.</p><p>Clayton Muhammad, the spokesperson for the district, said that East Aurora is seeking to establish &ldquo;a policy that&rsquo;s aligned with the state board of education.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll look to establish a community-wide committee who will sit down as a community to look at anti-bullying as a whole,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;What recommendations come out of that is what we&rsquo;ll move forward with.&rdquo; He did not provide any details on who would be included in the committee, or on whether or not the committee can be expected to develop a new policy for transgender students.</p><p>The Illinois General Assembly updated its anti-bullying policy in 2010 to include gender identity protections. The state policy requires school districts to pass and make public their own anti-bullying policies. East Aurora has a bullying policy in place, but has not yet updated the policy to include gender identity among its specific protections.</p><p>Shannon Sullivan of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance said Monday that her organization had worked with parents in East Aurora and with representatives of the district, namely Assistant Superintendent Christine Aird, for months before the policy on transgender students came before the school board. And she said the policy was reviewed by the district&#39;s legal counsel before the board first saw it in July.</p><p>She believes opposition to the policy was drummed up primarily by outsiders, and points out that the Southern Poverty Law Center formally classifies the IFI as a &ldquo;hate group.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;This [policy] did originate from a parent and child who were seeking better protections in the district,&rdquo; she said. The board&rsquo;s response, Sullivan added, was &ldquo;tremendously reactionary.&rdquo;</p><p>But board president Annette Johnson on Monday refuted accusations that the district caved to pressure from outside groups.&nbsp;</p><p>&quot;It&rsquo;s not a question of are we backing down or being intimidated,&quot; she said. &quot;We are not. It&rsquo;s just...we have to try to make everybody happy.&quot; She said she received probably over 1,000 communications about the issue last week, and acknowledged that a majority &ndash; but not all&nbsp;&ndash; complaints came from non-residents.</p><p>She also said she did not know until last week that Assistant Superintendent Aird had worked with the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance to come up with the proposed policy. She and other board members believed the board was merely updating its policies to reflect state requirements on districts&#39; anti-bullying efforts. East Aurora has had an anti-bullying program in place for over a year.</p><p>Higgins, of the IFI, hailed the board&#39;s reversal in a follow-up <a href="http://illinoisfamily.org/education/great-news-from-east-aurora-high-school/" target="_blank">blog post</a> on the group&#39;s website:</p><p>&quot;We have no way of knowing all the factors that influenced this decision, but we do know that silence accomplishes nothing.&quot;</p></p> Mon, 22 Oct 2012 10:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/turnabout-east-aurora-school-board-tosses-out-transgender-protections-103300 Illinois schools flock to program that gives students access to produce http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-schools-flock-program-gives-students-access-produce-89905 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-01/RS2697_kids food allergies_Flickr_Wu Ji.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>State officials say 215 Illinois&nbsp;schools will share $4.7 million from the federal Fresh Fruit and&nbsp;Vegetable Program this school year.&nbsp;</p><p>The program gives students in the participating public and&nbsp;private schools access to fresh produce throughout the school day.&nbsp;</p><p>Schools can make the extra fruits and veggies available all day,&nbsp;except during breakfast and lunch.&nbsp;</p><p>The program requires schools to allocate between $50 and $75 per&nbsp;student, with the majority spent on fresh produce.&nbsp;</p><p>The funding runs through June 30, 2012.&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p>The Illinois State Board of Education says this year's grant is&nbsp;up from $3.3 million last year that went to 186 schools. Nearly 370&nbsp;schools applied for this year's grant.</p></p> Mon, 01 Aug 2011 16:07:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-schools-flock-program-gives-students-access-produce-89905