Berkeley school district approves policy to expand access to free menstrual products

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved a policy at its Thursday board meeting requiring that free menstrual products be provided in all-girls and gender-neutral restrooms at the school district’s middle and high schools and in at least one restroom at each of the school district’s elementary schools.

The policy follows AB 10, a statewide measure requiring public secondary schools to provide menstrual products in 50 percent of their restrooms, and was passed in response to student advocacy on the issue.

“The (policy) will reduce stigma; provide ready access to menstrual products without the traditional embarrassment of asking for supplies; and will reduce tardies or absences for students on their periods,” according to a Board Policies and Policy Subcommittee report included in the meeting agenda. “It will also ensure that students who cannot afford to buy menstrual products will not go without these basic necessities while at school.”

School board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler traced the origins of the new policy in an email to Rachel Alper, a junior at Berkeley High School. According to Leyva-Cutler, Alper reached out at the beginning of the school year after working with principal Erin Schweng to bring menstrual supplies to Berkeley High bathrooms and after publishing an op-ed on the issue in Berkeleyside.

According to Leyva-Cutler, Alper then attended a Policy Subcommittee meeting, during which the contents of the statewide law and the desired provisions of the school district’s policy were discussed before the policy was approved with broad support and atypical swiftness.

“Menstrual products are as necessary as toilet paper, soap, and paper towels, which are of course provided in school bathrooms,” Alper said in an email. “Putting free menstrual products in bathrooms will save countless students from stress and embarrassment.”

According to the report, several of the school district’s secondary schools have already installed dispensaries, meaning that the estimated one-time cost of installing dispensaries in the remaining schools will be less than $5,000. Additionally, the annual cost of stocking the dispensaries across the district is projected to be $5,000. The Policy Subcommittee recommended in its report that the district should absorb these costs rather than placing them on individual schools.

The report also said the Policy Subcommittee is not aware of any other public school districts with such policies but does note that New York City and the state of Illinois both require the provision of free menstrual products. Leyva-Cutler said in an email that she intends to send the recently approved policy to the California School Boards Association, as well as other board members in Alameda County.

Alper also emphasized the importance of student involvement in policy change.

“I think it’s very important for students to advocate for themselves,” Alper said in an email. “We have a very unique perspective, and an important one, since we are the ones going to school everyday.”

Contact Alex Teodorescu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @AlexTeodorescu8.