WA legislators make another push for free period products in schools

SPOKANE, Wash. – One in five teens struggle to afford period products, according to one study.

That’s why for the last several years, advocates and lawmakers have been trying to make sure teens can get pads and tampons for free.

“I think there’s a lot of stigma around menstruation and around this period topic,” said Ivy Pete, a junior at North Central High School.

It can be an awkward conversation for students in middle and high school. Ivy says students have had embarrassing moments, or have felt anxious having to ask their teachers or other students for a tampon or pad.

“Really, a lot of unnecessary stress or strife when this is something that’s really no different than just toilet paper,” Ivy said.

Ivy decided to do a survey with about a thousand students in Spokane Public Schools in 2019.  The results she received didn’t surprise her, knowing that it’s important to give young women more access to period products.

She found many students were asking others for a tampon or pad when they were in need. She also saw that girls are having to leave class more because they need to take care of menstrual situations.

“It’s really an equity issue when we’re talking about, ‘How can we be equitable in this process and making sure menstruators, students who menstruate, specifically, are getting that same opportunities that their non-menstruating counterparts do?,” she said.

While some may worry about how schools can afford to give them to students for free, Rep. April Berg, who is the sponsor of the bill, says there are community organizations and other companies who are willing to help through grants.

“Let me be very clear. Right now, educational institutions provide toilet paper in all their bathrooms. That is a necessity, that’s a no-brainer,” Berg said. “For us, as women, as menstruating individuals, we need access to menstruation products.”

Not everyone remembers to stock their bags with period products.

Sometimes girls don’t have an extra quarter lying around to get one in a bathroom, too.

There are also people who just can’t afford to get them.

“There are parents who aren’t willing to support them or they can’t afford them because they have to buy groceries or something of that nature. It’s not only a financial problem it’s a societal issue,” Ivy said.

The bill has come up in the legislature before, but it stalled in committee in 2020.

However, this year, there’s a bill going through each the Senate and the House requiring schools to do this.

“We’re hoping this year, that we have the double approach, that we’d get it over the finish line,” Berg said.

As a student advisor and part of the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, Ivy is hoping to get the word out and is doing more to make period products free in schools.

Ivy say she’s been talking with Spokane Public Schools in trying to get a pilot program going. COVID-19 derailed some of those conversations, however the district says it plans to continue the conversations again the future.

The goal is to help young women so they don’t have to miss class because of the period.

“As we’re in the movements of racial justice, climate justice, of all these things, how can we work to make sure everybody is getting equal access and opportunity to learning in general?” Ivy said.

If the bill is passed, schools would have to start providing free menstrual hygiene products for students starting the 2022-23 school year.