Berywn South School District 100 holds the distinction of being the first K-8 school district in Illinois to pass a comprehensive administrative procedure to support transgender students. This procedure is tailored to each student's needs and takes into account the entire school day, including gender-specific facilities and sports teams.
Several people vetted the policy, including numerous attorneys at Lambda Legal; specialists at Lurie Children's Hospital; the district's attorney; and attorney/Illinois Safe Schools Alliance ( the Alliance ) Policy and Advocacy Director Owen Daniel-McCarter.
It all began when Komensky Elementary School Principal Jeremy Majeski became aware of students at his school who were presenting as gender non-conforming, and were questioning bathroom use and gender-specific practices and procedures at his school.
"I knewas a principal, having worked at other districtsI couldn't safely make decisions at my school if I knew it wasn't going to be supported by the district and school board," said Majeski. "I went to my superintendent, Dr. Stanley Fields, and told him I'd be willing to start an LGBT task force to look at these issues in the district."
Fields approved the idea and Majeski took on the role of point person for the district's LGBT task force. In order to get more information about transgender issues, Majeski attended a workshop in DuPage County last February centered around gender issues at the elementary and middle school level. That's when he met Daniel-McCarter.
"He gave a presentation and blew us away with his knowledge and resources," said Majeski. "A couple of weeks later, he co-led the district task force with me."
One of the ways the district supports its LGBT students is through its welcoming schools site.
The district has also surveyed every student and staff/teachers to get a sense of each school's climate as it pertains to LGBT issues. The results found that students generally feel safe at all district schools and have at least one adult they can go to for help. Staff/teachers said they wanted more information about LGBT people/issues and were also looking for administrative approval to begin discussing LGBT issues in their classrooms. Also, the survey showed that classroom and school libraries were lacking in LGBT-focused books.
"We're currently in the middle of doing district-wide professional development on gender issues," said Majeski.
In recognition of the district's work with LGBT students, the Alliance presented it with the Ally of the Year Award at its "An Alliance Homecoming" event this past September.
"We feel honored to receive this award from the Alliance," said Majeski. It's great to be recognized by them especially since we're tackling issues that can be controversial."
Prior to the Alliance's homecoming event, the group approached the district about doing a video highlighting the work they're doing to be inclusive of LGBT students. The video can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSr300zUWUk.
"Districts like Berwyn South School District 100 are transforming the climate for all students with their trans inclusive administrative procedure," said Anthony Papini, executive director of the Alliance. "There's something magical about this districtthe combination of inspirational students, dedicated educators, caring parents and fearless administrators and board members who worked in harmony with the Alliance and the result was transformational.
"Berwyn is truly visionary and I'm grateful that we had the opportunity to work with this fabulous district. They're leading the way and inspiring other districts in the state to adopt similar policies and the end result is safer and affirming schools for all students."
"I've been a part of D100's staff since 2002," said Matt Dillon ( Heritage Middle School special education teacher, GSA advisor and the school's gender support team contact ). "One of the many reasons I stay with D100 is because of their care and focus on students, their families and the staff. … Most important, the district always stays one step ahead of those needs, so they're proactivenot forced to be reactive to a situation.
"I love that I'm part of the team helping to support our students who just happen to identify as LGBTQ. I'm happy that I get to train the staff so they feel confident in working with all students. It's the right thing to do. I remember how it felt in middle and high school as a gay kid. I had no one to turn to or look up to as a role model. I don't want kids to ever have to deal with that lonely feeling."
The district has implemented other innovations, including providing every student with a laptop and iPad to take home, and having a full inclusion model for all special education students. It is also in the beginning stages of a dual-language program to honor each student's native language.
"Making sure LGBT students felt safe, welcomed and recognized was the next natural step since we already pledge an inclusive environment for other populations such as our special education and bilingual students," said Majeski. "We need to keep that in the forefront of our minds as educators and administrators. I think we're doing some really great things here that will make students and their families feel included."