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Staff photo by John Rawlston / Students walk on campus at the McCallie School on Thursday, Apr. 7, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The McCallie School Board of Trustees unanimously approved a policy Friday supporting sexual identity and orientation at the private, all-boys school in Chattanooga.

The policy, in part, stated the school will "provide opportunities where boys can safely, supportively, and appropriately express themselves and discuss their identity and orientation among encouraging and loving adult mentors — both privately and in public. These adult mentors should fully support this policy, McCallie's mission, and the school's enduring foundational commitments."

In a letter announcing the new policy, Jim Ruffin, board chair and a 1980 graduate of the school, wrote the board acted as part of the school's mission and foundation of Judeo-Christian values.

"Our discussions and decisions are also guided by the simple but powerful question of what is best for the boys of McCallie," Ruffin wrote. "While there is much debate, tension and pressure in our society and the public domain about these topics and the causes and movements about them, we are simply focused on the middle and high school boys we serve here on the Ridge."

The announcement comes after a monthslong push from some alumni and parents who wanted the school to be more open and affirming of its LGBTQ students. Alumni said they faced verbal and sometimes physical harassment from other students in what they described as an anti-LGBTQ culture at the school. Some said they developed addictions or experienced mental health crises resulting in hospitalizations.

(READ MORE: LGBTQ alumni share painful experiences in push for historic school to be open and affirming)

This week, the McCallie Pride Alliance launched an online petition to present to the school administration to make McCallie LGBTQ-affirming. As of Friday, more than 1,800 had signed the petition.

The new McCallie policy states the school will not allow any harassment or bullying on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Ruffin said the new policy is part of ongoing work at McCallie on the topic. School leaders said previously any moves are not in response to outside pressure from parents and alumni but part of a process started five years ago, before there was public attention on the issue.

McCallie's new policy does not include any specific actions the school will take, such as what it means for the school to "provide opportunities" for students to express themselves.

Parents and alumni pushing the school to change have provided examples, including allowing the students to form a Gay-Straight Alliance, holding LGBTQ implicit bias training for faculty and allowing students to take same-sex dates to dances. None of these requests were addressed in the policy or McCallie's announcement.

The board also emphasized in the policy that McCallie will remain an all-boys school. "McCallie only admits students who are biologically male and who identify as male," the policy reads.

Some of McCallie's critics, who are also alumni, stated previously they are concerned the school will say the correct things publicly but not follow through with specific actions to support LGBTQ students on campus and change the culture of the institution.

Ruffin said the board provides the administration space to implement the general policy in direct ways.

"We have full and very enthusiastic support for Head of School Lee Burns in leading the school in all ways, including in this vital area," Ruffin wrote in his letter announcing the decision. "He and his administration will be sharing in the coming days and weeks details of the work with faculty, staff and boys as it unfolds in thoughtful and methodical ways."

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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