The Eugene 4J School Board unanimously approved a revised health policy at Wednesday’s school board meeting. The policy will provide free menstrual products in all female and most gender-neutral bathrooms in middle schools and high schools.
Free menstrual products have been available at most Eugene middle school and high school offices—but not dispensaries. Student period advocates say the lack of products in bathrooms has impacted their ability to learn.
Violet Neal is a sophomore at Churchill High School and a member of Eugene’s Period Chapter. At the board meeting, she said access to free menstrual products is a fundamental right that is effecting their education.
“Access to period products is an equity issue,” said Neal. “Students need these products and by providing free pads and tampons in our school bathrooms, we’re insuring the menstruating students can spend more time in class and less time figuring out where they’re going to get these products.”
Anne Marie Levis is the 4J School Board Chair. She said they are trying to get menstrual product dispensers installed as quickly as possible to help take away student’s shame of having to ask for hygiene materials.
“It was that realization from a board perspective that while we feel like the district had provided these, when we heard from our students [say], ‘Yes they’re provided but there’s still barriers to obtaining these,’” said Levis. “And it’s a barrier for young women to come to school to get education and so, having that perspective brought to the board and finding a way to work it into our health policy that this really is something that should just be a right.”
Levis said the products have been available in most middle schools but not all. She said she’s glad the revised policy will add these products to all middle schools and high schools.
“As you look at some of the health issues, it’s getting earlier and earlier for girls to be getting their periods,” said Levis. “So making it really ubiquitous throughout all of our schools is a good thing to do.”
Students at the meeting also said they were advocating to help homeless students who can’t afford to buy their own products.
Kira Elliott is a student at Churchill High School who is the President of women’s Empowerment Club and a member of Eugene’s Period Chapter. Elliot was one of the students who spoke during public comment at the board meeting.
“This issue has become very personal to me as I’ve seen many menstruators and close friends of mine, put into situations where their only safe space was their school,” said Elliot. “The inability for them to easily obtain menstrual hygiene products is an issue that brings anxiety and unhealthy options into their lives.”
Elliot said a lack of accessible menstrual products can have long-term effects on students who are not in class.
“This will end with menstruators falling behind, ending up with less confidence in their school abilities, and possibly ended up with lower paying jobs which can lead to gender pay inequality,” said Elliot.
Dispenser installation will cost about $29,000. Feminine hygiene products for all middle schools and high schools costs $6,000 annually. But Levis said the impact outweighs the cost.
“When you think about the cost, in our mind, it did not feel like a high cost to really provide something that gives those students that feeling that they’ll be taken care of.”
While the concept of adding menstrual products to bathrooms makes sense to Levis, she said she was not sure if she would have thought of this idea without students advocating for the issue. Levis said this is an example of the importance of students voicing their concerns.
“Often times, students think it doesn’t make a difference to bring in an issue to a school board or to a leader, but this really was generated from our students and brought directly to the board,” said Levis. “And within a very short period of time, we implemented this new policy and brought it into the district.”
Levis said she’s glad the district is making menstrual products more accessible.