Providing access to feminine hygiene products for low-income students
Recent national and international campaigns have focused on increasing awareness around the number of young women who lack access to feminine hygiene products.
While the Oscar-winning documentary “Period. End of Sentence” focuses on the impact that a lack of feminine hygiene products has on disrupting and ending girls’ access to education abroad, many people may not realize how many students in the United States also lack access, due to a variety of factors. To address this problem, Assembly Bill 10, signed into law in 2017, requires that California schools serving grades 6-12 that meet a 40 percent student poverty threshold must stock 50 percent of the school’s restrooms with feminine hygiene products and must not charge students for the products. It is estimated that about 4,000 schools meet this threshold.
“Having your period shouldn’t stop students from being able to participate equally in educational activities.”
CSBA Policy Manual Consultant Briana Mullen
Research suggests that one in five girls in the United States has missed school or left school early because they did not have access to feminine hygiene products.1 Tampon and pad dispensers in schools may not be well stocked or the student may not have the correct amount of money to purchase these necessities. In some schools, the products may be kept in the nurse’s office, but girls may be too embarrassed to ask for them and the location of the office may not guarantee privacy. For many students, the products may be cost prohibitive and instill shame from the inability to afford them, or the stigma of menstruation may stop students from seeking help. Students who lack access to pads and tampons may struggle to keep clean, using toilet paper or unsanitary cloth instead, in turn possibly facing embarrassment, bullying or health risks.

AB 10 provides for reimbursement of the state-mandated costs of purchasing and installing dispensers and keeping them stocked with feminine hygiene products. Schools can also partner with local nonprofit and student organizations to help fund the purchase of feminine hygiene products. In San Francisco, the nonprofit Simply the Basics delivers products to schools once a semester. Other districts might consider involving students in donation drives or asking for corporate donations to purchase the products.

Schools should also be mindful of transgender and non-binary students who may also experience menstruation and need access to products that may not be accessible based on their access to restroom facilities. Experts also recommend stocking pads and tampons in libraries and locker rooms to make sure that students who need them have access.

“Having your period shouldn’t stop students from being able to participate equally in educational activities,” said CSBA Policy Manual Consultant Briana Mullen. “By stocking feminine hygiene products, schools are ensuring that students who are experiencing a period don’t lose valuable learning time or feel stigmatized for not being able to afford their own.”

CSBA’s sample Board Policy 3517 – Facilities Inspection reflects the AB 10 requirement to make feminine products available in high-poverty schools. In March 2019, CSBA’s sample Administrative Regulation and Exhibit 1312.4 – Williams Uniform Complaint Procedures were also updated to reflect the new requirement. State law does not require a specific complaint process for any complaints regarding the failure of a school with a 40 percent student poverty threshold to comply with AB 10. However, it is recommended that districts use the William uniform complaint procedures if they receive any such complaints, since those procedures are required for allegations of noncompliance with other school restroom requirements related to availability, cleanliness or maintenance, including stocking restrooms at all times with toilet paper, soap and either paper towels or functional hand dryers.

While the requirement to stock products only applies to schools that meet the 40 percent poverty threshold, all districts should consider the impact that lost learning time and absences might have on students’ ability to learn. Providing access to the appropriate feminine hygiene products can help ensure that every student can come to class and participate fully, regardless of their income or the stigma around menstruation.

  1. The Always Confidence and Puberty Wave VI Study, Nov. 2017; based on females aged 16-24 years old.