NORFOLK, Neb. -- It was a packed house Monday as the Norfolk Public Schools Board of Education was set to vote on a new transgender sports policy.

The rule in question, policy 5301, would limit transgender students at NPS to compete as their sex assigned at birth. The policy was passed in a 5-1 vote last month on its first reading. For roughly two hours and twenty minutes, speakers spoke on both sides of the issue, including a Nebraska state senator, a former NPS principal, and Norfolk students.

Those in favor of the policy argued allowing transgender athletes to compete would ruin the competitiveness of sports. Specifically, many argued against allowing transgender athletes to compete with cisgender female athletes. Nebraska state senator Robert Dover from District 19 spoke towards this sentiment.

"This is a topic I believe needs to be addressed," Dover said. "Science and observation both tell us there are physiological differences between boys and girls. To say that in certain sports there are no significant advantages for a biological male competing against biological females is denying science and ignoring the evidence. We are simply asking our school system to recognize these differences and embrace the limits that come with them."

Those against the argument said the policy was discriminatory and harmful to transgender students. A number of Norfolk High students spoke during the night. Students shared personal stories of mental health struggles and advocated against policy 5301. Many students argued restricting how transgender athletes compete would have a negative effect on their mental health. 

Victory Klafter, a former Norfolk Public School student, talked about his experience as a transgender man, and how sports was an escape for him while coming to terms with his identity.

"I felt gender dysphoria in overwhelming and piercing ways since puberty," Klafter said. "Alone in my bedroom in states of panic and despair, I began self-harming through asphyxiation. Holding my breath for a different purpose probably saved my life though. High school swimming offered a healthy, safe, encouraging place where I kept in touch with my physical will to live. What I know is that this rule will make it more difficult for children to get to adulthood. Sports can adapt and survive. Are we willing to adapt and let our kids survive?" 

Ultimately, the board in a 5-1 vote to enforce policy 5301. Members Teri Bauer, Cindy Booth, Brenda Carhart, Lindsay Dixon, and Sandy Wolfe voted in favor. Beth Shashikant was the lone vote in the opposition. Following the decision, superintendent Dr. Jami Jo Thompson spoke to the remaining students in the building and to those at home. 

"I want you to know that there are teachers, counselors, principals, and lots of other staff who care very very deeply about you," Thompson said. "If you are struggling with this decision, or bullying, or any other issues, please reach out to one of them for help. Please please, reach out if you need assistance."

The decision has already drawn comments from organizations across the state. OutNebraska, which says they are a non-partisan organization working to empower and grow LGBTQ+ communities in Nebraska, put out a statement after the vote. In the statement, OutNebraska said "Policies like these are meant to send the message that transgender people are not welcome" and "Every single student, transgender or not, deserves the opportunity to challenge themselves, improve fitness and be part of a team."