Superintendent, Dr. Glenn Wood, addresses pronoun procedure


Leeander Davis

The Paw Print staff met with the superintendent of school District 202, Dr. Glenn Wood, on Monday, Nov. 21, to talk about the procedure concerning transgender and gender non-conforming students. Dr. Wood explained that the process was put in place , in part, due to local politics, parent involvement, and student safety. According to Wood, the students best interest is always in mind when coming up with a plan to call a student by their preferred name and pronouns. If a student is concerned about home life regarding a name and/or pronoun change, a plan to keep the student safe will be put into place. The procedure requires students to contact their social worker if they feel they are in danger at home after coming out. A triangle of qualified adults will help the student transition safely in all environments.

Ella Underwood, Editor in Chief

Q: What exactly does this policy state?

A: Cultural competency is a term the District 202 has used for over 15 years on ways to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. The current state superintendent of education in Illinois was in this district doing a lot related to cultural competency. I chair that committee; we have a district committee for cultural competency and then we have school level teams. At each school we have 31 committees with student voices. We have continued to get better and better I believe. My goal is so the kids feel safe and supported when you come to school. I want you to feel safe and healthy so you know who you are and you are comfortable in your own skin and you feel you have support in that way. If you don’t have the basis of feeling safe or feeling welcome at school it’s very difficult to learn. 

Part of the policy is in place to support parents, students, and staff. We need you guys, your parents, and staff to work together to make all of that happen. We have a gender support plan for students who want to go by a different name or different pronouns and the reason we came up with this is so students feel welcome and safe in their environment. The problem we have is, particularly if the kids are minors, that parent piece is very important. What should happen is that if students want to be identified formally by a different name or gender, you contact your social worker or your counselor and they start putting you through the process. It was a realization that we needed to do something for that. That is how our plan came into place. It is not an official policy but it is a procedure that we follow with the intent to make you feel comfortable at school. 

Q: What is the difference between a district mandate and a district policy/procedure?

A: District policy is school board approved. Usually they have attorneys that get involved and it is typically a bigger picture. Like the school day has to be 300 minutes but periods can be any length of time. Procedures are developed by the administration. Usually we will follow up with administration and teachers and include the parents and students on the communication. Policy is official and board approved and a procedure is how we do certain things. The state has these mandates we have to do. That is usually backed up legally. A procedure does not have to be board approved. 

Q: Was this voted in? Who decided this would be the policy this year to go against state recommendation?

A: A big thing in Illinois is local school control so unless they make it a mandate, we make our decision based on locality. If you lived about 30 miles south of here the masks were not a big deal. We did have a team of teachers, parents, I don’t know if we had students. With the gender support plan, students should be able to go to their social worker or counselor and ask about that. If students feel they could be harmed (physical abuse, mental abuse, getting kicked out) , they need to share with the school. There is a way to have the gender support plan without parent permission but there are extra steps. What we don’t want to do is put you or the teachers in a position where the parents [would be angry]. Then they are going to blame the teacher and the child. We know it is difficult at home with some kids and we want to help them, too. Everything can’t be an exception or else it all falls apart. Eventually they bring the parents in the loop because we feel like we have to. If you are a parent and you come to South and a teacher refers to your child as something they have no idea that could be a problem. 

Side Q: What if they aren’t ready to come out yet?

Side A: Hasn’t come out or isn’t ready but in class wants to be called something different or different pronouns. For me, that sounds like they are ready because everyone in the class would know so I think if the student was comfortable with that our job is to help bridge the gap between the student and their parents. Our goal is to get the student ready to have that conversation with their parents. 

Q: What are the multiple ways this policy can impact transgender and gender nonconforming students inside and outside of school?

A: I want kids to be true to themselves and I want them to be comfortable in their own skin and I want them to feel safe and that there is trust. If you’re coming in here on pins and needles everyday you can’t learn. I think the impact is to help students feel confident. 

Q: The state does not recommend districts to require parental consent to call a student by their preferred name and pronouns, why was it decided to make this a policy in our district? 

A: Because of the triangle of folks we need to include in the process. Whether you like it or not, your parents are invested in you more than anybody and you may not feel that at all. My own kids make choices I don’t agree with but I still support them. 

How people identify is core to who you are and that’s why it makes it so difficult to help students whose parents are not supportive. We do recognize that but it’s the legal piece of it.

We train our staff about implicit bias, cultural competency, and microaggressions. First day they get hired we do cultural competency training. The parent piece is tricky because we can’t tell them what to do. We can’t make them do certain training.

I am disappointed that you are unaware of how to be identified how you would like so that is something I am going to bring back to all of our parents. We have students in elementary who use different birth names and genders. It has trickled down. 

Q: Would you like to say anything to the students that this policy could possibly impact in a negative manner?

A: The only negative is feeling that there is no one to help students and teachers and parents dont support them. The only real negative is the interaction that happens when folks are resistant based on their biases. Other than that, it is an emotional piece. Most of the issues are with the parents. 

I’ve done a lot of equity work for 20 years even in my other district. I was a principal at Andrew High School. It is really close to the city so families that migrate go straight to that school. First it was the Polish families who moved to the school and they were mad and emotional for some reason. Then it was all the Greeks. Then it was Middle Eastern families. As we have gone through this, I have tried to make folks accept and learn other people’s cultures. Folks say things but don’t know it’s offensive because they don’t know the background or they just don’t want to learn and our goal is to make them learn. I started like that. 

As the years have gone along, the students are much more accepting than the parents. I see it with my own children. It seems like you take kids for who they are more than their parents. I’ve had parents call me and say. “Why is so and so calling my daughter this her name is this!” and so on.

I have people who are very very conservative and people who are very very liberal and it is unfortunate because those folks drive the agenda and they get in the news. The people we are really trying to help have very little influence and they get caught up in everything. That’s where the emotions come into play.

I do feel that Plainfield is supportive of its LGBTQ+ residents. I know we had our Pride Fest a few weeks ago.

I think that the community as a whole is trying to build respect levels with everybody. Ive seen progress in this community.

1990 this community was 99% white but now this is just an example we are about 50% white. This community has become a destination for all kinds of nationalities. We have a lot of students coming in from other countries this year, most of which are from Ukraine and Russia because of the war. 

With LGBTQ especially, I have seen a lot of progress through the years. 

DEI, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion. The core for us is implicit bias. People have to understand that we all have biases. You look at me and you think something. It’s okay but you have to know that you have them. When you understand that you have them, you can work on them. One of the reasons I chair this Cultural Competence committee is because I think that it is that important. I want people to know that the superintendent thinks it is important, even though it puts me under a lot of stress because people yell at me. 

We train our staff on implicit bias and we hold parent workshops too. But they have not been as well attended as we would like. The other thing that people need to understand is microaggressions. They have to know what they are and that they are probably doing them. Part of our job is to train our staff first since they spend the most time with students. 

The microaggressions, intentionally or unintentionally, make it worse. Its important that people know about it so they can call each other out on it.