12 June 2018
If you need to go to the bathroom in school, it’s not that big of a deal. You’re never worried about if there’s going to be toilet paper or soap. It’s not embarrassing. You just get your teacher to sign your pass and you do what you need to do.
Unfortunately, not all similar needs are handled with this kind of sensitivity. Neither Atholton, Howard County, nor the State of Maryland supplies free pads or tampons to people on their period in school bathrooms. To ensure that students are healthy and able to learn, it should be required for all public schools to provide feminine hygiene products to students who need them.
This is important because feminine hygiene products are expensive. In 2017 The Huffington Post calculated that an average woman will spend around $1,800 solely on tampons in her lifetime, and in most states, they are taxed as a “luxury item.” In fact, some states tax tampons more than candy, according to Time. Making feminine hygiene products available for free in school bathrooms ensures that everyone with a period has a way to manage it.
However, even people who can afford feminine hygiene products need to have free tampons and pads in school bathrooms. Periods can be irregular, especially during the first two years, meaning that predicting when your period is going to come can be difficult. According to a national study by Free the Tampons, 86% of US women ages 18-54 have started their period in public without the supplies they needed. While bringing your own feminine hygiene products with you is probably a good plan if you can afford it, the reality is that sometimes people forget or do not know that their period is coming. In these cases, backup options need to be available.
An example of this happening is New York City, where they passed a law on June 21st, 2016 that required all middle and high public schools and shelters to provide tampons and pads for free. The law also added more detail and oversight to the existing program that gave tampons and pads to prisoners with periods. According to The Huffington Post, Mayor De Blasio of New York said, “These laws recognize that feminine hygiene products are a necessity―not a luxury.” California passed a similar law that made tampons and pads available for free in at least half of bathrooms, in schools that meet the “40-percent pupil poverty threshold” according to LA Weekly and the bill itself.
In Atholton, if someone gets their period unexpectedly, they have a few choices. They could ask a friend for a tampon or pad. Alternatively, they could bring 25 cents to the bathroom, where Be the Change Club has filled up the tampon and pad dispensers.
Vice President of Be the Change Club Bella Saunders said being unprepared for your period is “something that happens to almost all females, at some point in their life, and sometimes if you forget or if you didn’t know it was coming, [having tampons and pads in the bathroom is]… a nice alternative.”
However, having these dispensers does not solve the problem. For one, people often don’t have the 25 cents on them needed to buy a tampon or pad in the bathroom. While these dispensers are certainly a step in the right direction, they aren’t perfect. Saunders said that she thinks that having tampons or pads for free in bathrooms is a good idea, but that one club alone could not fund such a large project. Additionally, not all of these dispensers work, and in the D-Hallway bathroom, there isn’t a dispenser at all.
The other option that is available to students in Howard County Schools is going to the nurse to get a pad. The Atholton School Nurse, Sandra Eggerl, said that pads are available in her office, however tampons are not, because the school system “is not allowed to give anything out that needs to be inserted.”
She also said that “anybody coming into the health room should have a pass.” However, the Health Assistant, Stephanie Poling, said in an emergency situation they can let someone in without a pass. She said that they would consider someone who is “heavily bleeding” with a bloodstain visible on their pants as an emergency, however in other cases a pass specifically to the health room would be required. The only way to get a pad from the health room without a pass is to be heavily bleeding through your pants, which is clearly ridiculous.
Imagine you have to pee, so you get a pass to the bathroom. When you’re there, you realize that you have your period. Since you don’t have 25 cents in your pocket for the dispenser and there’s not a stain on your pants, your only choice is to go all the way back to your class and ask your teacher for a second pass to go to the nurse. This process is as embarrassing as it is long, and it also takes students out of class for a prolonged amount of time. Going to the nurse also has the connotation that something is wrong or that you are sick, but periods are normal and healthy, and this convoluted system just adds to the negative stigma that surrounds them.
Furthermore, if the school system is giving out free feminine hygiene products in the health room, they should be able to give them out in the bathroom as well. Doing so would make it much easier for students to manage their periods. Free feminine hygiene products are akin to free toilet paper and soap—they are necessary for student’s health.
Free pads in school bathrooms would make it easy for students to manage their periods healthily. It would allow them to better concentrate on school, to feel more secure, to miss less class time, and to not feel embarrassed. Menstrual cycles should not get in the way of learning. Period.