The Berkeley School Board unanimously approved a new policy requiring that all BUSD middle and high schools provide free menstrual products in all girls’ and gender-neutral restrooms. It requires also that such products be provided in at least one girls’ or gender-neutral restroom at each elementary school.
The policy, approved at the November 29 Board meeting, applies far more broadly than the new state law, approved last October when Gov. Brown signed AB 10. The state law requires free menstrual products in 50% of the restrooms in any public school that serves grades from 6 through 12 if at least 40% of its students are below the poverty threshold. Berkeley’s policy applies to all schools in the District and includes access in the elementary schools.
A lack of access to feminine hygiene products causes girls to “often miss or leave school,” according to the report of the Board’s Policy Subcommittee in the Board meeting agenda packet. The report noted that a student who misses 30 minutes of instruction more than three times in a school year faces penalties as a “truant” under state law.
Among advocates of the policy were Berkeley High students, including junior class Vice President Rachel Alper, who wrote in a Berkeleyside op-ed: “Nobody would disagree that school bathrooms need to stock products as necessary as toilet paper, soap, and paper towels and that a failure to do so imposes barriers to learning. A search for a pad or tampon can cause a student to lose valuable class time or suffer extreme embarrassment.”
The Policy Subcommittee report also noted the early age at which menstruation can begin and the high proportion of females who are caught without needed supplies when their periods begin unexpectedly:
“The average onset of menstruation is about 12.5 years old for all girls, and it is even earlier for black girls. Some girls get their periods at a significantly younger age.
“A national survey of women in the U.S. showed that 86% of females had experienced starting their period unexpectedly without the supplies they need.”
The Subcommittee acknowledged that many BUSD schools make menstrual products available in the school office or health center, but concluded that such access is not satisfactory. The new policy, the Subcommittee said, “will reduce stigma; provide ready access to menstrual products for students without the traditional embarrassment of asking for supplies; and will reduce tardies or absences for students on their periods. It will also ensure that students who cannot afford to buy menstrual products will not go without these basic necessities while at school.”
The Policy Subcommittee report and the new policy can be accessed under item 10.10 in the Board’s online agenda packet.