by Caitlin Sievers, Arizona Mirror
Democratic legislators are working to bring free period products to Arizona public middle and high schools, but detractors say those products are already offered to students free of charge — if they go to the nurse’s office and ask for them.
Introduced by Sen. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, Senate Bill 1675 received bipartisan support from the Senate Education Committee Feb. 15 and will move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The bill would require all district and charter schools serving grades six through 12 to provide period products to students free of charge, and would give $1 million in funding to help schools do so.
Lack of access to period products can keep girls out of school, with one in five having missed class for this reason, according to Demetra Presley, executive director of Go With the Flow, a non-profit that provides free period products to schools in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.
Epstein has been working on the legislation for several years, and said that many people reached out to her saying that it could have a significant positive impact on girls whose families can’t afford tampons and pads.
Most women and girls have been caught off guard without period products and have had to improvise or go without, Epstein said.
“When you’re in high school or middle school, this can be very embarrassing,” she said.
Students who don’t have adequate access to tampons and pads might end up using those products for too long, or improvise with unsafe items, both of which can have serious health ramifications, Presley said.
“Students deserve to not miss out because they lack access to a basic hygiene item,” she said.
Two Republican members of the Senate Education Committee, Sine Kerr of Buckeye and Justine Wadsack of Tucson, voted against the bill, saying free period products are already available at schools.
Wadsack said that when she was growing up during the 1970 and 80s, girls simply went to the school nurse to ask for period products, so she believes the bill is providing for an expense for which schools are already paying.
But many Arizona schools don’t even have a nurse on site currently because of an ongoing shortage, and state law doesn’t require that schools have a nurse on staff at all.
Presely created Go With the Flow in 2017 after hearing about a teacher who filled bags of period products to distribute in her classroom because students were asking her for them so often.
Sophia Carrillo Dahl, president of the Creighton Elementary School District governing board, told the committee that she believes this bill will positively impact learning.
Dahl said she once ended up walking out of school herself, using toilet paper to deal with her period, because there was no access to products in her school. She added that, across Maricopa County, 13.8% of the population lives below the poverty line, and that number is much higher, at 33% in east Phoenix, where Creighton is located, so she believes the bill would make a big difference for students and families there in communities like hers.
Creighton currently works with Go With the Flow to provide free period products to its students.
Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said she was “all in” on the bill in the hope that it would increase “time on task” for students who need period products.
In addition to providing products to students who can afford them, it would also help out girls who simply forgot to bring products with them.
She said it will help prevent “the mortification of a 13 year old being caught off guard and needing access to such products.”
This story was written by Caitlin Sievers, a reporter at the Arizona Mirror, where this story first appeared.
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