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When the vast majority of Sonoma County's schools go back in session Monday, the rules for who uses which bathroom and what locker room will have changed.

But many local educators say adjustments will be subtle to non-existent as officials navigate a new law for transgender students.

The state law, AB1266 authored by Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, requires that "a pupil be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil's records."

It is the nation's first such law, although some school districts in Sonoma County and across California have been making accommodations for transgender students for years.

"This is not new news to us," said West Sonoma County High School Superintendent Keller McDonald. "It's a new law, but our district has adapted to or accommodated transgender kids for six years."

"We have crossed that bridge at all of our schools," he said.

Other districts have not yet faced a student who is transitioning genders openly, so officials are watching how the law -#8212; and any opposition -#8212; unfolds.

In Roseland, where students range from pre-kindergarten to high school seniors, officials will "wait and watch and see what happens over the next couple of weeks," said Superintendent Gail Andrade Ahlas. "We haven't had any specific requests" for accommodation.

"It seems that no matter what we come across, each situation is definitely going to be different," she said. "You really need to differentiate for whatever the situation is for that child. I believe that something fair could be worked out for any situation."

The law is already facing opposition.

A coalition called Privacy for All Students has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures asking for a public vote on the law that was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in August.

The organization did not respond to a request for comment.

Jacqueline Nugent, a Santa Rosa woman who transitioned as an adult after being born a male, said fears of students blithely undressing in whichever lockerroom they choose are unfounded.

"The last thing a transitioning child wants to do is to expose themselves to other people," she said, adding that some transgender youth refer to their genitalia as "birth defects."

Nugent, who volunteers with multiple support groups through Positive Images, a Santa Rosa support center for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual youths, said athrooms labeled as unisex are appropriate, but anything designated specific to transgender students are not.

"Then you are forcing students to stigmatize themselves," she said.

Nugent said allowing schools to establish "case by case" policies is problematic because it will force students and parents to "negotiate" their legal rights.

"I think what happens is you end up in battles because each person comes in with their opinion on how it should be dealt with. It makes it much more difficult for everybody," she said.

"It's better for a school to have a clear policy and procedure so they know what they are supposed to do, so that each person doesn't have to bring in the therapist and the lawyer to discuss what needs to happen to support this person," she said.

But Cotati-Rohnert Park Superintendent Robert Haley called the situation "a tough balancing act."

"We have had some limited accommodations in our school district and we tend to keep it pretty private with the student and the family," he said. "I'm not sure what doing something pre-emptively would look like. I think it's a case by case basis."

"My focus, and I have thought about this a lot, is to ensure that we can treat all of our students with dignity at the same time we know we have students who are concerned with their privacy and we want to respect them as well," he said.

McDonald said students have in large part led the way in welcoming peers in his district.

"I think that our students are, in many ways, better, more prepared, to handle these issue than many adults," he said. "I think we can learn a lot from the level of flexibility and acceptance that our students show."

Nugent called the law game-changing for vulnerable students.

"It's a really big deal because what you have got is kids out there suffering who are terrified of telling anyone that they need to transition. The fears are always around bullying and violence," she said.

The new law makes it "easier for those kids to find true happiness as themselves."

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)

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