With Virginia poised to become the fifth state to require its middle and high schools to provide free tampons and menstrual pads in its bathrooms, the issue of “period poverty” has growing traction in schools and statehouses across the nation.
One in five teens said they have struggled to afford period products, or haven’t been able to purchase them at all, according to a national study. As a consequence, 84 percent say they’ve missed school, or know somebody who else who has.
That’s why Delaware high school teacher Kerry Stahl keeps a stash of tampons and menstrual pads—which she pays for herself—in her classroom for students. This way, she says, students can grab one, run to the bathroom, and be back in class in five minutes.
Otherwise, they’d have to trek to the nurse’s office (their school has one, but many don’t), wait for her to triage the sick kids, and possibly miss a whole class. Even worse, some of her students might simply stay home.
“It’s a common sense law,” says Stahl, who is vice president of the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA), about a Delaware bill to require free tampons and pads in Delaware’s middle and high school bathrooms. “Especially in low-income communities, if these things are free and accessible, it could encourage students to come to school.”
With DSEA’s support, Delaware’s bill passed the state house last month. Meanwhile, in Virginia, with support from the Virginia Education Association, its legislation is even closer to becoming law. After sailing through the House of Delegates in early February, the Virginia bill, which requires free menstrual supplies in bathrooms used by fifth- through twelfth-graders, was passed by senators earlier this week by a vote of 39 to 1. If Governor Ralph Northam signs it into law, Virginia will become the fifth state in the U.S. to make sure students have free, easy access to period products.
“It’s a wonderful idea,” says Richmond Community High School teacher Charlotte Hayer, who also is a member of NEA’s Board of Directors. “In places like Richmond, where a good proportion of our families are living below the poverty line, access to those things can be difficult. Parents might be working two jobs and still struggling to provide the basic necessities. In those situations, kids might just stay home.”