DULUTH — The Duluth school board approved a policy this week that says transgender and gender nonconforming students can use bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

By law, Minnesota schools must allow students to use facilities that align with their gender identity. In 2021, the Anoka-Hennepin School District agreed to pay $300,000 in the case of a transgender student who was barred from using the boys' locker room while competing for the Coon Rapids High School swim team. In its decision about that case, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said that "requiring a transgender student to use a different locker-room facility because of his sexual orientation is discrimination."

"This is litigated law ... this is us being proactive and student-centered," said board member Kelly Durick Eder. "To make sure we recognize students with the fullness of their being."

While Duluth schools have for years featured single stall gender-neutral bathrooms, the new policy says accommodations will be made for transgender students to have access to multi-stalled bathrooms, locker rooms and athletic programs that align with their gender identity. The policy also includes provisions for name changes in student's records and in everyday use.

A Lincoln Park Middle School social worker said at the meeting that having a policy in place gives clarity to those seeking answers, and comfort to students already dealing with a lot.

"It's hard for them to be in a world that doesn't always allow them to live their full selves as they are," Jennifer Fuchs said.

Activity directors are already thinking about ways to carry out the policy in locker rooms, which will be communicated to students and families when finalized, Superintendent John Magas said.

He said school administrators would work with transgender students who want to use different facilities. It's a process that won't be taken lightly, Magas said, and students must show a need to receive that level of accommodation.

Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp said the issue was personal to many, citing the high rates of suicide among transgender youth across the country.

"We can't keep waiting," she said.

St. Paul Public Schools enacted a similar policy in 2015. According to St. Paul-based Gender Justice, nearly 3% of Minnesota students identify as transgender or gender nonconforming.