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Schools and Periods: Class is in Session

menstrual products machine in public bathrooms

Schools and Periods: Class is in Session

Rena Chen
WVE Fellow

Think back to a time where you were just going on about your day — maybe you’re working at the office, or you’re on your daily commute. Suddenly, you feel your underwear get wet and you realize, it’s that time of the month again. For most, you simply go into the restroom and use whatever hygiene product you have with you and move on with your day.

Now imagine back to when you were a kid in school. The long school hours, strenuous physical activity, and mind-numbing lessons can be stressful to anyone. Now, imagine you’re on your period, but you are stuck in a humid and crowded classroom. Not only would this be extremely uncomfortable, but you could also be stuck in your chair, for an hour at times, unable to excuse yourself to the restroom because you’re afraid of missing class material, or maybe your teacher won’t even let you go out of their classroom. In addition, the hygiene products at public schools are either poorly made or there are none available at all. If you suffer from period cramps like many others, the nurses’ best solution might be to just give you an ice pack and hope you feel better. That is the unfortunate reality we have in our schools today.

I recall when I was in my freshman year of high school, this scenario happened to me. I was not prepared for my period and had to discreetly ask my friends for pads. Throughout my time in high school, the stigma around periods has not changed. My friends who were in so much pain during their periods were scolded by the gym teachers and forced to run laps. The girl’s bathroom would have machines for tampons, but they were always empty. I had taken one out of curiosity, and without using it, I could tell how poorly made they were. I couldn’t even fathom how uncomfortable someone would be using it.

Prioritizing Periods and Students’ Health

For students who can’t afford their own products or are experiencing homelessness, they often depend on schools to provide them with these products. How are people who menstruate supposed to care for themselves with these types of products and this treatment and neglect from their school? Especially if students are expected to put their 100% into school, how are people who menstruate supposed to care for themselves and focus on schoolwork?

Schools can and should do so much more for their students and the community. There just isn’t a priority on period care products or menstrual health. But with more voices from students and the community, there can be important changes. If you’re a student, try to talk to your student council about caring more for students’ health. If you’re a parent, try to attend parent association meetings and bring up these issues. Nurses should carry heat packs to help with period cramps and students who are experiencing severe symptoms should be excused from excessive physical activity, like any other sickness. The school community should encourage discussion about issues like these. Together, we can bring change.

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Change in action: Many states in the U.S. have introduced bills to address access, affordability and safety of period products. Most recently, California passed a law requiring public schools and colleges to stock their restrooms with free period care products. To learn more and to see what your state is doing to address menstrual equity, click here.

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