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Annapolis state senator pushes for free menstrual products in public schools statewide

An Annapolis state senator has sponsored legislation that could give Anne Arundel County Public Schools students access to period products in school bathrooms rather than visiting the school health room when needed.

State Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Annapolis, said the need for free period products had been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, leaving thousands of Marylanders jobless and worsening the financial outlook for many middle and low-income families. Menstrual products can be expensive, she said.

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The bill addresses “period poverty,” which refers to menstruating students missing class time or opportunities when they can’t access necessary hygiene products.

“If we can do something for children who have the least, I don’t know why we shouldn’t do that,” Elfreth said.

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Senate Bill 427 would require public high and middle schools to install and stock menstrual product dispensers in at least two bathrooms, and in at least one restroom in elementary schools by Oct. 1, and in more bathrooms, including men’s bathrooms, at every school by August of 2025.

Though there was no written or verbal testimony in opposition to the bill, some senators voiced concerns.

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, questioned the price and the requirement in the bill that each middle and high school eventually add dispensers in men’s bathrooms.

Elfreth said this is to account for students who might experience puberty in a way that aligns with their assigned birth sex but does not align with their gender.

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Sen. Jason Gallion, R-Harford and Cecil counties, asked if menstrual products are provided, whether schools would soon be required to provide toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant and razors.

“At what point do we (refer to) personal responsibility, where people have to do things through their own means?” Gallion asked. “How far do we go with this?”

Elfreth said that while those toiletries are necessary, they aren’t necessarily needed unexpectedly in the middle of the school day like a menstruating student might unexpectedly need hygiene products.

The bill’s first hearing comes after Sen. Ed Reilly, R-Gambrills, withdrew a resolution calling for “female monthly cycle tracking for adolescent girls.” Reilly pulled the nonbinding legislation after activists decried it as invasive and inappropriate. It had previously been set to be heard during the same meeting as Elfreth’s bill.

Elfreth and co-sponsor Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, have the support of Anne Arundel County Public Schools if the bill is amended to include state, rather than local, funding and exclude tampons from the products made available to students, said spokesperson Bob Mosier.

AACPS would like to exclude tampons because of health concerns associated with tampons. A legislative summary provided by Mosier outlines liability because some parents may not want their children using tampons, and teachers might be expected to help students with them.

Montgomery County high school student Hana O’Looney said this is her third year talking to lawmakers about the bill, which she said addresses a human rights issue.

“It only follows logic that when menstruating students don’t have access to pads or tampons, we are going to miss class,” O’Looney said. “The issue of access to menstrual hygiene products in schools is a clear issue of access to education.”

Alondra Labastida Campos, a high school student from Charles County, asked the senators to consider what it feels like to be a menstruating student who is in need of menstrual products and realizing that if they don’t act quickly, they could bleed through their clothes.

“It’s a very real and a very common nightmare,” Labastida Campos said.

This is Elfreth’s first year sponsoring the bill, which has been tried before in the General Assembly. Though most lawmakers can get behind the policy, Elfreth said the high price tag had been its fatal flaw.

As it is introduced, the bill calls on local school systems to pay for the dispensers and the supplies to stock them. Initially, this means one dispenser for each of the 793 elementary schools across the state and two for each of the 593 middle and high schools. The dispensers are estimated to cost about $255 each, according to the Fiscal Note. The price to stock the dispensers and keep them will depend on the usage.

“I understand this bill will have a fiscal impact, but evening the playing field and addressing this huge inequity would be worth every dime,” Labastida Campos said.

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