Senate Bill 246 would apply to charter schools and boys bathrooms, including at McKay High School in Salem. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Public schools statewide are required to provide free tampons and sanitary pads for all students. But a bill introduced in Oregon’s 2023 legislative session seeks to change that.
Oregon’s Menstrual Dignity Act – passed in 2021 as House Bill 3294 – requires schools to provide menstrual products in gender-neutral, male and female restrooms, making them available to more than 552,000 K-12 students, 85,000 community college students and 96,500 public university students statewide.
Oregon is one of 16 states and Washington D.C. to have some form of the requirement.
Senate Bill 246 would remove the requirement for charter schools and bathrooms designated for males.
The bill’s chief sponsor Sen. Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, said the bill is “self-explanatory” and seeks to restore the statute that was originally proposed with House Bill 3294.
The original 2021 bill said products would only be required in bathrooms accessible to females, including gender-neutral bathrooms. However, it still listed charter schools among education providers. Charter schools in Oregon are semi-autonomous public schools.
Robinson did not respond via email as to why he wanted to remove the charter school requirement; he declined an interview.
“Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to have these products in a kindergarten boys bathroom,” he wrote in an emailed statement to the Capital Chronicle. “It should be easy to correct this.”
Not everyone agrees.
Products in male restrooms
Proponents of Oregon’s Menstrual Dignity Act say having period products available in bathrooms for boys and men allows them to take products home for family members who may not be able to afford them otherwise, and it makes products available for transgender boys and nonbinary people who menstruate.
Providing these products in male restrooms, they say, also helps break stigmas around menstruation and allows boys to feel more comfortable around period products. This, in turn, helps girls, too, speak more openly about their menstrual needs.
Daphne Ischer, a youth activist who helped pass the Menstrual Dignity Act in Oregon, said it’s important to remember that not all people who menstruate are women, and not all women menstruate.
“This is … an issue of health and common, basic needs,” she said. “What is the harm of more education around this topic, creating a society in which (we all) better understand the menstrual cycle and how it works in our communities?”
Ischer, 18, worked on Oregon’s bill as a teen in her high school’s PERIOD. club. PERIOD. is a Portland-based organization with chapters worldwide. It that was founded by two teenagers that works to address “period poverty,” the limited or inadequate access to menstrual products and education.
PERIOD. worked with Oregon legislators to create the Menstrual Dignity Act in 2021 and with the Oregon Department of Education to create a first-of-its-kind manual to help schools implement the act.
Now a student at Southern Oregon University, Ischer is still involved in this work. She said the university’s PERIOD. club has worked to keep the school in compliance with stocking supplies in the men’s restrooms.
This isn’t an issue of “leftist ideologies,” Ischer said. It’s about allowing “students to have an equal and fair opportunity to learn on our campus.”
Addressing ‘period poverty’
As of 2019, more than four in five students nationwide, about 84%, either missed class or knew someone who had missed class because they didn’t have access to period products, according to the first State of the Period study, commissioned by PERIOD. and Thinx, a company that makes menstrual underwear.
Students across demographic groups – regardless of their age, income or whether they lived in urban or rural areas or attended public or private schools – reported a lack of access to these products.
Additionally, as of 2021, nearly one in four students, about 23%, struggled to afford menstrual products, and 51% reported having worn period products longer than recommended, which experts said can cause both physical and mental health problems.
“If you don’t have the right access to menstrual products, (that can) make students feel ashamed, sad and stressed out,” said Damaris Pereda, the national programs director of PERIOD. “They’re not on the same playing field or feeling their best when they are having their periods, which is no fault of their own.”
Pereda, a former teacher, kept products in her classroom because the need was so great.
“Period poverty has been an issue in schools for as long as schools have been present,” she said. “We are just now addressing this need.”
The Oregon Department of Education reimbursed $1,028,115 to schools statewide during the first year of the program. The money comes from the State School Fund. But as districts strengthen and expand their implementation, state officials expect that number to increase.
Department spokesperson Marc Siegel said the program could cost the state nearly $2.8 million a year.
“Providing free menstrual products within school bathrooms keeps students in school and learning,” Siegel said, adding that after New York City passed a law providing free menstrual products to students, participating schools saw a 2.4% increase in attendance.
Pereda said it’s important districts continue to support and pay for these products for all students, even when they have to make budget cuts.
“Now more than ever, we understand that schools have had to make impossible decisions,” she said, referring to the fact that student enrollment, and therefore per-pupil funding, is down. “It is essential that schools continue to prioritize menstrual products as an essential item, just like we do toilet paper and soap.”
Senate Bill 246 has been assigned to the Senate committee on education – of which Robinson is a member – but has not had a hearing scheduled.
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