M-A continues to violate state law on the accessibility of menstrual products, failing to provide basic necessities for half our student body. This is not the first time M-A students have called for free period products, but the school remains idle.

Over the summer, M-A quietly relabeled the metal period product dispensers in the girls’ restrooms to indicate that the products are now free. Under the California Menstrual Equity for All Act, signed into law in October 2021 and effective as of this school year, all public schools with students in grades 6-12 must provide free menstrual products in every women’s restroom, every all-gender restroom, and at least one men’s restroom. However, M-A’s period product dispensers are often missing or empty. 

Though the law was passed more than a year ago, M-A still falls short. M-A’s plant manager, Brien Oliver, who oversees our school facilities, said, “There are supplies in all the girls restrooms only, with the exception of the K-wing girls’ restroom, which we are currently purchasing a dispenser for.” Not a single boys’ bathroom stocks period products, and the only all-gender restroom accessible to students without a staff member to unlock it, in the upstairs G-wing, doesn’t either.

Menstrual products are a medical necessity. Having accessible period products at M-A protects students’ health when they’re at school without the products they need, whether that’s because they are having an irregular period, forgot products at home, or aren’t able to afford them. A survey by PERIOD., a menstrual equity advocacy organization, found that 51% of menstruating students have used a single product longer than recommended, which can cause infection or skin irritation. Others have made makeshift products out of things like toilet paper or rags, which are ineffective, feel uncomfortable, and may cause infection. 

In bathrooms with dispensers, Oliver said, “Dispensers are checked and re-stocked each night if needed. The District follows the law and has made sure we’re in compliance.” However, even before school or early in the day, these dispensers are often empty. After two weeks of checking the girls’ restrooms before school and during brunch, rarely did more than one bathroom have a stocked dispenser. Often, there were no unlocked bathrooms with products available at all.

The empty period products dispenser in the downstairs G-wing girls’ restroom.

Junior and President of M-A’s Women’s Union Anna Gady Moguilnitskaia said, “I definitely don’t think menstrual products are consistently stocked. With the dispensers, I’ve never used them myself, I’ve never heard of a friend using them, I’ve never seen anyone use them, and it seems like they’re always empty.”

California Assembly member Cristina Garcia, who introduced and championed the Act, said, “It is important we recognize not having access to these products impacts a young girl’s education. I’ve heard stories from many young girls that struggle with their period on a monthly basis, affecting their schooling, morale, and health.”

De’Anna Miller, the Advocacy Manager for the Alliance for Girls, a gender equity organization that sponsored the Act, said, “Period product access is a public health issue, an education access issue, and an economic participation issue. The folks who are most likely not to have access to menstrual products are those who don’t have the funds to cover the cost.”

The Alliance for Period Supplies reports that two out of five people who menstruate have struggled to afford period products at some point in their life. Across the U.S., one out of four menstruating teens have even missed class time because they didn’t have products.

Moguilnitskaia added, “M-A has students that come from different backgrounds. Menstrual products can be really hard to come by for a lot of women, and that’s why this is important. Schools should provide these products, especially for young women, some of whom are dealing with this for the first time ever.”

Accessible period products not only address a practical need of our students, but also play an important role in destigmatizing periods. Kat Keigher, a teacher who keeps menstrual products for students in her classroom, said, “My goal was to destigmatize menstruation. I very openly encourage my students to take products as needed, and I keep the products out in the open. I think that’s really important in destigmatizing something that approximately 50% of people do. I consider menstrual products just like paper towels, tissues, band aids, and toilet paper. Having that available at no cost is an acknowledgment of the holistic needs of our student body. It’s a reminder of the humanity of our students.”

PERIOD. found that 76% of menstruating students believe there’s a stigma around periods as being “gross” and “unsanitary,” while 70% of them said that the school environment in particular makes them “especially self-conscious of their periods.” There is nothing shameful about needing a pad or tampon, and keeping them openly available to students is a reminder that these products do not need to be hidden and that menstruation should not be stigmatized.

Menstruation is also not just a girls’ issue. Transgender boys, non-binary people, and gender nonconforming people who use the boys’ or all-gender restrooms can also menstruate, and have the same need for period products. These students may face additional stigma attached to menstruation, as it’s too often discussed as a female experience. Making period products available to them is an important step in recognizing their experiences and normalizing periods for genderqueer people. As Miller said, “Gender does not decide who menstruates and who doesn’t.” Providing period products in the all-gender restroom and at least one boys’ restroom is not only legally required, but also a move towards inclusivity and empathy for all students. 

In bathrooms with dispensers, Oliver said that there are barriers to keeping them stocked, including that “some students remove more than they need, wet the sanitary napkins, and throw them on the ceiling and walls.” 

Keigher, speaking about her own classroom, said, “One of the criticisms I heard early on when I posted on social media about providing menstrual products for my students is people said, ‘Oh, well, aren’t teenagers just gonna take advantage of that? Aren’t they just gonna take big handfuls?’ And I thought, ‘Maybe, but maybe they need handfuls of them. I don’t know. That’s not my job to regulate.’ And, since keeping menstrual products in my classroom, no one has abused the process. I’ve had my own students take products, and I’ve even had students I don’t know walk in and be like, ‘I heard you have tampons.’ It’s never been an issue.”

Like with any freely provided school service, there may be the possibility of students abusing or wasting free period products, especially when they’re provided in unsupervised restrooms as opposed to a teacher’s classroom. Still, the bathrooms with dispensers are consistently lacking period products so early in the school day that it’s unlikely students are emptying every dispenser early and often enough to account for the missing products. Additionally, if disrespectful student behavior is at fault, it’ll likely become less of an issue as the novelty of having these necessities provided for wears off. In the meantime, the school’s legal obligation to provide period products remains.

Even if the school is truly refilling the dispensers diligently and irresponsible students are the ones to blame for the lack of products, there still aren’t dispensers at all in one of the girls’ bathrooms, the all-gender restroom, and each of the boys’ restrooms. So long as these bathrooms are lacking dispensers, M-A cannot make a plausible claim that we’re in compliance.

Additionally, the law provides for “reimbursement to local agencies and school districts” for “costs mandated by the state.” As Miller said, “There is implementation money and state dollars that go behind every piece of legislation that requires a school district to do something. A school without period products is not providing access to what they are funded to provide access to.”

Moguilnitskaia said, “I think it’s quite ironic and a little bit hypocritical that M-A is not providing these free menstrual products, because M-A is a school that seems to really care about its students. So we have things like free lunch and financial aid opportunities, yet this is one thing that’s lacking.”

To California schools that still are not consistently stocking menstrual products for their students—to schools like M-A—Miller said, “My message would be to understand the nuance of the population who we’re talking about that doesn’t have access to these products. The folks who really are impacted the most are going to be those who exist at the margins of our society: they’re going to be our lowest-income individuals, gender-expansive communities, individuals with marginalized sexualities, and people of color. It’s crucial that we use all of the avenues that we have, including school, to make sure all of our communities have access to these essential health resources.”

Last school year, before the Menstrual Equity for All Act went into effect, the M-A Chronicle wrote an editorial on the need for free period products, which you can read here.

Katie Doran is a senior and an Editor-in-Chief of the M-A Chronicle. In journalism, Katie has enjoyed being able to direct their own research on issues and events related to the M-A community. She is also involved in M-A's debate team and is interested in law, politics, and social issues. In their free time, Katie likes to read, bake, paint, and hang out with friends.

One Comment

  • Nat Barman says:

    Yet another example of MA refusing to fix a major issue because they thought nobody would call them out on it 😒

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