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N.J. School District Approves Policy Allowing Bathroom Use Based On Gender Identity

HILLSDALE, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- After a heated debate, a New Jersey school district has approved a policy that would allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity.

As CBS2's Valerie Castro reported, the Pascack Valley Regional High School District voted at a meeting in Hillsdale during the 10 p.m. hour Monday to approve the new policy after a contentious meeting.

The meeting included numerous speakers on both sides and was very contentious, Castro reported. Transgender students were among the participants.

The new policy will accommodate transgender students at Pascack Hills High School and Pascack Valley Regional High.

"If you want to be called by your newly identified gender name, then we're going to allow you the opportunity. If you want to be called by a different pronoun, you're going to be given the opportunity to do so," Superintendent Erik Gundersen said. "I would say that the use of the restroom and of the locker room is probably the final chapter of the student's transformation, at least in high school."

The district said restrooms and changing areas already provide for individual privacy and no one will be allowed to be casual about declaring a gender change.

"The student has to be able to show consistent evidence and the administration has to truly understand that this is part of the student's core identity," Gundersen said.

Some parents believe the issues were forced through, but others were very happy about the vote.

"Well, I don't think that there was enough education to us, and as well as the people around, to understand, you know, how to deal with this, you know, in the future," one man said.

"I'm surprised that a lot of the people from the community that were opposed to it, but glad to see that the school is taking steps in the right direction," a woman said.

Some parents and lawmakers had earlier raised privacy issues for students who aren't transgender, but the district says the policy is needed to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

"While bathrooms generally have stalls which provide everyone with a level of privacy, locker rooms do not," Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said in a Facebook post. "If a 14-year-old child is uncomfortable getting undressed next to another child who is still biologically a member of the opposite sex, what option does the non-transgender child have? If they tell the school they feel uncomfortable, will an accommodation be made for this child or in a worst case scenario could this child be written up for discriminating against a fellow student and/or bullying?"

Schepisi had said parental rights are also being ignored, 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck reported.

"In our schools, a parent has to provide numerous doctors notes, permission slips, etc. for their child to use an asthma inhaler, but in the event the same child decides he or she may be a different gender, the school has drafted this policy to ensure a parent is not involved or even notified," Schepisi said. "A child struggling with gender identity generally needs a strong support network, and unless there is a legitimate and substantial concern that notifying a parent will harm the child, parents should proactively participate in this process."

Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based group, had also opposed the policy.

"Men or boys have used these policies to enter into women's private areas for reasons of either voyeurism or even worse, so I don't think it's a wise policy," Mat Staver, of Liberty Counsel, said.

Students, however, told CBS2's Lou Young that they're more comfortable with accommodating transgender classmates than listening to grown-ups fight about the issue.

"I think they're closed-minded about the issue and I also think it's none of their business," senior Zach Broadman said.

Senior Jonathan Levin said, "I understand how some people might be upset about it, but times have changed."

The school board made it a point to point out that there are adult supervisors in all locker rooms and changing areas. The board also said any non-transgender students who are not comfortable with the new policy will be given the option to change in a more private location.

The district estimates that in a student body of 2,000 there are five to seven students who identify with a sex other than the one on their birth certificate.

The policy follows several other New Jersey school districts that have passed similar measures.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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