The Minnesota State High School League board approved a new policy for transgender students Thursday morning that will begin with the 2015-16 school year.

Criteria for determining eligibility of transgender students for high school sports teams would be applied in an appeal process that would be overseen by the high school league. Appeals would be heard by an independent hearing officer.

Religious schools will be exempt when the new policy goes into effect in time for the 2015-16 school year.

Eighteen of the 20 board members voice yes. Emmett Keenan, activities director at St. Cloud Cathedral, voted no. Governor-appointed board member Paul McDonald of Ely, participating in his first board meeting, abstained.

The overflow crowd at the high school league headquarters in Brooklyn Center likely surpassed the roughly 150 people who turned out for the transgender policy discussion at October’s board meeting.

Supporters and critics who arrived well before the meeting started greeted board members by holding signs aloft.

“ALL kids deserve respect” read 8½ x 11 inch printed signs provided by Transforming Families, which calls itself “a peer support group aimed towards transgender and gender non-conforming youth and their families.”

A large handmade sign held by an opponent read, “The End of Girls Sports.”

One woman held up a sign that read, "We represent God," while the person standing next to her held up a smaller one reading, "No you don't!"

About 20 speakers were heard by the board, which alternated for and against view points. The speakers speakers included transgender students, representatives of advocacy groups and members of the Minnesota Legislature.

You can read a copy of the policy here.

Come back to startribune.com later for more on this story.

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Those changes to a policy under discussion for several months were among the highlights from two meetings of board members Wednesday in Brooklyn Center.

By now, they’re used to it. The one they tabled in October, after 10,000 e-mails and an overflow meeting of critics and supporters, appeared on their desks for the first time on the day of the vote.

A proposal they considered Wednesday also made its first appearance at the meetings. Modified from a two-page version on the league’s website since Nov. 20, it essentially made the policy optional for school districts facing transgender eligibility questions.

That quickly drew criticism from school board members on the league board. They feared a patchwork of district-by-district approaches across the state, as well as efforts to oust school board members based on their inclinations on the sensitive issue.

“I have great trepidation in seeing this played out at the local school board level,’’ said board member Deb Pauly of the Jordan School District.

In response, board members discussed putting the criteria for transgender student eligibility into the league’s appeal process for such matters. The change seemed to quell concerns. Enough modifications were suggested that the board’s lawyers were expected to put in writing before Thursday’s meeting.

Another change made public Wednesday would exempt religious schools from having to comply with the policy. An earlier draft referred to “nonpublic schools’’ being exempt.

Before the workshop, a league subcommittee heard from about a dozen speakers. Supporters say the proposal seeks to be inclusive and provide an affirming environment for transgender students. Critics say it raises concerns ranging from fairness and privacy rights to safety and Title IX compliance.

The Minnesota Family Council plans to propose a bylaw change at Thursday’s meeting stipulating that a student’s sex at birth be used to determine eligibility.

More testimony is expected at Thursday’s board meeting, but speaking time will be limited.

Board President Scott McCready of St. Charles, Minn., said his e-mail pile on the issue topped 1,000 on Wednesday. But he applauded the process to date.

“I’m a small-school athletic director,’’ he said after the meeting. “If a kid comes to my desk and says, ‘I’d like to play on a team,’ I want to involve that kid. Right now I don’t know what I would do on my own with my principal and superintendent flying by ourselves. The idea of having some league guidelines or policies is a very good idea to me.’’