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Students lead push for free menstrual products in Minnesota schools

Jan 27, 2022 | News Clip

This article originally appeared on the MPR News website on January 25, 2022. You can find the original here.

Columbia Heights High School senior Amina Jama can still recall being a freshman needing to see the school nurse in the middle of the day to get a menstrual pad. The nurse asked her for 25 cents, but Jama didn’t have it.

To get the pad, Jama had to write down her name on a list of students who’d needed similar help — “a list that went several pages.”

It led her to write an essay for her school newspaper asking why tampons and pads couldn’t be available to students for free. Before publishing, she said, she and the nurse spoke with school leaders who decided students should not have to pay.

While applauding the move, “I just wish I didn’t have to ask in the first place,” Jama told reporters Monday as she and other students and student advocates threw their support behind a bill that would require all Minnesota districts to provide free menstrual products in school restrooms for grades four through 12.

“Every single day students come to my health office for period products,” said Tom Stinson, a nurse at St. Paul’s Harding High School. “Many students don’t have the money or the means to get period products.”

And that can lead to students having to go home and miss the rest of the school day.

“Pads and tampons are really as essential as pencils and test papers as school supplies and really shouldn’t be treated any differently than toilet paper and hand soap in bathrooms,” said Beth Gendler, executive director of Minnesota’s National Council of Jewish Women.

A recent study commissioned by national groups advocating for free menstrual products in schools showed 23 percent of students surveyed said they struggled to pay for period products. More than half said they had worn products longer than safely recommended.

The Minnesota bill would provide $2 million in funding.

“It’s a relatively small amount of money when we think about how much money we spend trying to help kids catch up, because when they miss school, they’re falling behind,” said Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, the bill’s lead author.

“We were accustomed to this just being an issue that was on our shoulders to always have. And I became really frustrated with this,” said Elif Ozturk, a sophomore at Hopkins High School and one of the early advocates for free pads and tampons in school restrooms.

“That’s why I think it’s so important to fix this small issue that’s going to impact so many lives in a beneficial way,” Ozturk said.

Sarah Gelbard and Kirsti Marohn
January 25, 2022 1:51 PM

By Rob Hubbard

The restrooms of Minnesota’s public schools provide students with toilet paper and paper towels. So why not tampons and pads?

That’s what Rep. Sandra Feist (DFL-New Brighton) wants to know, and why she is sponsoring HF2750 that would require school districts and charter schools to provide students in grades four through 12 with access to free menstrual products in student restrooms.

“This is a case where the students have told us what they need, and we should listen,” Feist told the House Education Policy Committee Monday. “One of every 10 students loses class time due to lack of access to period products. It also has correlations to depression and anxiety.”

The bill would increase total operating revenue by $2 per adjusted pupil unit to cover the cost of the necessary equipment and supplies. It would also adjust the general education aid appropriation for fiscal year 2023 to include the increase in total operating revenue.

The committee approved the bill, as amended, by a 12-4 vote, with two members abstaining until a fiscal note is produced. Its next stop is the House Education Finance Committee.

The companion, SF3052, is sponsored by Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie). It awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee.

Elif Ozturk, a sophomore at Hopkins High School, said “period poverty” is an issue she’s encountered among classmates.

“In eighth grade, I had friends who didn’t only forget their products, but couldn’t afford them in the first place,” she said. “Friends who decided to skip school during that time because a 14-year-old girl can’t always handle the stress of doing geometry while blood is leaking onto her chair. … How do we expect our girls to carry this burden on them throughout the school day and still perform well? My No. 1 priority should be to learn, not to find a pad. … This is a low-cost effort that would help so many lives.”

But cost was an issue raised by a few committee members. It’s estimated the bill would affect 950,000 students at a cost of $2 per student, so about $1.9 million.

Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea) suggested that this could be handled by local school boards and not the Legislature, but Thomas Stinson, a licensed school nurse at St. Paul’s Harding High School, disagreed.

“We can’t expect individual schools to provide period products, because they will not,” he said. “We need to have legislative support.”

Some students have successfully lobbied to make period products available, with Eagan High School senior Evelyn Gore describing a program implemented throughout her district. But most testifiers agreed that it should be dealt with on a statewide basis.

“This impacts half of the students in our schools today across the state,” Feist said. “If we mandate and pay for it with state dollars, we’re telling those students that they aren’t an afterthought.”