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Students push for Madison School District to put free period products in all middle, high school bathrooms

Students push for Madison School District to put free period products in all middle, high school bathrooms

Menstrual Equality 041720 04-04172020170324 (copy)

Menstrual pads and tampons. 

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A student-run advocacy organization is asking the Madison Metropolitan School District to include funding next year to put free menstrual products in every middle and high school bathroom.

“Our district provides toilet paper,” Memorial High School senior Anika Sanyal said. “I don’t think asking for period products is anything of a different caliber.

“It’s an issue of equity that affects 50% or more of the population in the district.”

Anika’s classmate, Maggie Di Sanza, founded Bleed Shamelessly in summer 2018. The organization has been raising awareness about menstrual equity for years, while also providing products to those in need both before and during the pandemic.

While period products are often accessible through a school nurse, Anika said students having to go to the nurse’s office and take more time away from class to get a basic need met is “inequitable.”

They’ve talked with School Board member Ali Muldrow about the initiative, and she supports the idea, she said in an interview — as well as a long-term push for the products in elementary school bathrooms.

“I think we should budget for menstrual products in every bathroom everywhere, period,” Muldrow said. “I think you’re talking about basic hygiene and people’s right to dignity.”

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In a survey of 77 peers, 85.7% responded that requiring menstrual products and dispensers in all restrooms would make them feel “safe, respected and valued” in the district, while 96.1% of respondents said the same for ensuring that menstrual products are regularly refilled in all restrooms.

The survey found 77.9% of respondents said that if their school bathroom had menstrual products, they were “rarely — if ever — refilled.”

The district is expected to release its draft preliminary budget near the end of April. Anika and Memorial junior Amira Pierotti said they’ve wanted to work with the district to figure out how much the initiative would cost, but have been unable to determine that number.

“I don’t think we’re asking for much,” Anika said. “Just for our district to recognize basic dignity and basic biological needs that we don’t have control over.”

Muldrow said that it’s difficult to know how much it will cost, since it’s “something we’ve never done before,” and that it will require ongoing work to be sure it’s a long-term success.

“Do I think we’re going to initiate a greater effort to provide menstrual equality at school? Yes,” Muldrow said. “Do I think we’re going to get everything right and from a budgetary standpoint know exactly how to well-resource something like this district-wide? I don’t know at this point.”

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Having products in all bathrooms would also advance the group’s goal of general awareness of menstrual issues.

“We’re hoping to, through this work, help to destigmatize menstruation in the district,” Amira said. “Making a culture where talking about periods and talking about periods outside of the Western gender binary is normalized and not only acceptable, but encouraged.”

Muldrow said she has “been profoundly impressed” with the students leading Bleed Shamelessly in recent years, and called them “beyond inspiring.”

“They’re bringing an intersectional issue to the table and they’re asking us as leaders to navigate it with them,” Muldrow said. “I think it’s a great opportunity any time young people come to the School Board and say, ‘We want you to make our schools better for us.’”

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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