While many adults may look back on their adolescent years with a sense of nostalgia, the daily grind of middle and high school often chips away at those who are currently in this transitional phase of life. Many tweens and teens are navigating friendships, forging through frantic late night study sessions, and getting accustomed to their awkwardly changing bodies and moods. Certain embarrassing moments are inevitable rights of passage everyone must endure. There are other stressors, however, that are avoidable and that no Kentucky students should have to face. One all too common fear that cycles through the minds of many students who menstruate statewide is: “What if my period comes while I’m at school? What will I do?”
Senate Bill 55 aims to relieve students from this fear, and ease the unneeded stress and shame surrounding the menstrual cycle. This bill, filed for the current legislative session, mandates that all public and charter schools with grades 4-12 have free period products available for students.
Schools are especially crucial places to have free period supplies due to the nature of puberty and the menstrual cycle. Most people start their period between the ages of 11-14 and it can take 1-2 years for periods to become regular. This means for many, periods can be unpredictable and nearly impossible to plan for. This, coupled with a general lack of education around menstruation, often leaves teens and tweens unprepared for their periods and frequently in need of supplies.
Providing period products in schools also helps to combat period poverty. C. Montgomery is the co-founder of The Ending Period Poverty Project (E.P) which is a non-profit based in Green county KY, dedicated to ending period poverty in schools. “We take rolling carts and put in all sizes of products, tampons and pads and keep sanitary wipes there to clean up after,” Montgomery explained. We just want all the students who need those products to have easy access to them.”
“We live in a part of Kentucky that is very rural and so many of our students come from low income families,” Montgomery told The New Edu. “Period poverty extends to all of those students automatically because they may not have the education or the supplies for taking care of periods when they happen.” E.P originally started as a service project for beta club, but Montgomery and co-founder Lauren Scott quickly realized their once service project could help solve a larger community wide problem.
In Kentucky, one in five women and girls live below the federal poverty line, struggling to meet basic needs and oftentimes having to sacrifice items such as pads and tampons in order to put food on the table. Additionally, Kentucky is one of the 22 states with a tax on period products, causing these essential supplies to be even more unaffordable. Schools should be a safe place where students do not have to be concerned with whether or not they will have access to the personal supplies they need.
Research shows that keeping menstrual products available for students also improves school attendance. One in four teens in the US state they have missed class due to a lack of access to period supplies and four in five know someone who has missed school because they were on their period. The State of the Period report, commissioned by Thinx and PERIOD, found that 80% of girls feel there is a negative association to periods and 71% feel self-conscious when on their periods. This embarrassment and negative stigma around menstruation can deter students from attending school when on their periods.
“We want to not only provide the supplies so that students don't have to feel embarrassed, but we want to educate them on why this happens and how they can sort of destigmatize the subject,” Montgomery said.
When schools provide free period supplies, they normalize menstruation and send a message to their students with periods. They are telling them they are valued and supported, and that their period should not be a source of shame. They are prioritizing their education by encouraging them to come to school without fear and embarrassment, whether they are on their periods or not.
The passing of SB 55 would be a great first step in addressing menstruation inequity in Kentucky. However, more can always be done, such as the removal of the “Tampon Tax.” Period poverty and stigma around menstruation exist outside of schools just as much as they do within them. Currently, E.P has mainly seen its effects in Green County, but Montgomery hopes that one day it can extend beyond schools and into other venues where supplies are needed, eradicating period poverty completely.
“We really do want to reach out to as many businesses and towns as possible to put these supplies, not only in their schools but just in every bathroom available,” Montgomery said. “It's not really fair that everybody has to account for themselves. Periods aren't chosen, so if you supply toilet paper, it makes sense to supply pads and tampons as well.”
One downside of SB 55 is the bill does not require that the period supplies need to be kept in school bathrooms. Many schools, like Manual, keep menstrual products in the main office and nurses office, but, ideally, schools should stock every bathroom with period supplies, like E.P does, for the easiest accessibility.
However, given that SB 55 does not provide funding for schools to purchase the mandated supplies, making them available within the building is a good introductory measure. This legislation is still a crucial step in advancing equity across the state. Providing essential period supplies for students is a small step that can have a great effect on individual students and school climate as a whole. Never having to fear “What if my period comes while I’m at school? What will I do?” would be an unburdening for many students statewide.