HILLSDALE, N.J. — Transgender students in the Pascack Valley school district could use restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, under a policy reintroduced by the local school board.
Board members approved a first reading by a vote of 7-1, with one abstention, Monday afternoon at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale.
The four dozen or so attendees at the 4 p.m. meeting included several students in favor of the policy, which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and allow transgender students to participate in gym class and sports.
The policy requires two readings in public before the board can adopt it. The final vote is scheduled for next Monday night.
Although a dozen or so other North Jersey districts have similar policies, Pascack Valley has become a lightning rod, of sorts, as a nationwide debate swells over accommodating transgender citizens.
The Pascack Valley School Board was actually prepared to take a final vote in February, but opposition forced a postponement. A conservative Christian group later threatened to sue.
While a local priest and several students spoke in favor of the policy on Monday as fair and dignified validation, concerns were expressed by some -- including dissenting board member Joseph Blundo -- over transgender students sharing locker rooms with classmates who prefer not to.
Schools Supt. P. Erik Gundersen has said that alternative accommodations can be made for them.
Others have questioned the policy's protection of students' gender identities from their parents.
The policy states, in part:
"Students who do not want their parent to know about their transgender status shall be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
"The school district shall balance the rights of the student and the parent right to be kept informed about their child, especially when the student is a minor.
"In the event the parent does not consent to the student’s gender identity, the Superintendent or designee will meet with the parent and the student to determine how the student’s gender identity shall be addressed by the school district."
Before Monday's meeting, state Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi cited a lack of input from parents, pediatricians and child psychologists. She also questioned "the interplay of anti-bullying policies with this new [one]."
In a letter to Gundersen, Schepisi emphasized that parents should be involved in the gender decisions.
Instead, she said, "the school presumes it knows what is best for that child and a parent does not."
"A child struggling with gender identity needs a strong support network, which in all likelihood involves counseling," Schepisi added, "and unless there is a legitimate and substantial concern that notifying a parent will harm the child, parents should proactively participate in this process.
"Please take input from pediatricians, child psychologists and parents in order to enact a workable policy," she asked.
The district is made up of two high schools, Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills, and serves students from Hillsdale, Montvale, River Vale and Woodcliff Lake.