NEW LONDON - A proposed policy to provide a safe learning environment for transgender and gender nonconforming students got its first reading this week at the New London-Spicer School Board meeting.

But some community members say they hope a second reading - and a vote on the policy - is delayed.

Gary Swenson, who said he’s a grandparent in the district, wants the board to delay action for a couple months to allow time for public discussion and input.

“There’s a lot of talk about it in the community,” Swenson said during the Monday night board meeting.

Prior to the meeting during a listening session, board members said they heard from other district residents who also encouraged the board not to rush the process.

The primary points of concern dealt with school bathrooms, privacy and worries that the existence of the policy would cause more problems than it would solve, said board member David Kilpatrick in a summary of the listening session.

Superintendent Paul Carlson said it’s important to take time to listen to community concerns, take feedback and “educate the community” about transgender students.

He said a second reading would not happen for at least another month.

But he said given the high rate of suicide among students struggling with transgender issues, schools must take action.

“To say we shouldn’t have a policy like this is really not an option,” Carlson said. “Some people would feel that, but it’s really not an option.”

Carlson said NLS social workers and counselors strongly recommended a policy that would provide guidelines to create a safe school environment that’s free from discrimination for all students.

The policy goes hand-in-hand with the state’s anti-bullying laws that list sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression, as a protected category.

Schools that receive federal funding must also follow federal laws regarding discrimination.

Carlson said the Minnesota School Boards Association is also encouraging districts to take action, although he said the association is waiting to write a model policy for districts until the outcome of several court cases is known, which could affect specific policy language.

The primary purpose of the policy is to provide a safe and discrimination-free learning environment as well as guidelines for dealing with day-to-day school routines.

“We’ll continue to do what’s right for all of our students,” Carlson said. “We’ve been doing a good job of that.”

Carlson said it’s important to be “respectful” and that NLS staff sends the message every day to students “to be kind to each other.”

Under the policy, Carlson said the district will work with students and families in a “team approach” to address questions about such things as participating in sports, confidentiality and what pronoun a student prefers - “he” or “she.”

The policy includes forms for legally changing a student’s name and gender on official school records and resources for age-appropriate information on transgender issues.

The district has already taken some action regarding bathrooms, which is consistently brought up in public discussions about transgender students.

Two single-stall restrooms that had been dedicated for staff in the high school are currently designated as gender-neutral bathrooms. The doors on these bathrooms can be locked from the inside.

When additional gym space is built this year, separate locker and changing rooms that will be used for visiting referees during evening games could be used by students during the day.

Carlson said the proposed policy was reviewed and revised by numerous NLS staff members and committees and it will continue to be revised as the board and staff hear from constituents and study the issue.

School policies can be tweaked even after they are approved, Carlson said.