istrict 204 is knowingly not in strict compliance with a new Illinois law requiring all public and private high schools to provide free tampons and sanitary napkins in school bathrooms. Illinois legislators passed the Learn with Dignity Act in January, but District 204 is not complying with all aspects of the new law and has no plans for future implementation.
The law requires, “The school district shall make feminine hygiene products available, at no cost to students, in the bathrooms of school buildings.” At Metea Valley, students are provided with free tampons and pads, but they are only available in the nurse’s office, not in bathrooms as the law requires.
Illinois State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia is a chief co-sponsor of the act and worked to pass this legislation. “I thought it was extremely important that we provided these products in a place where young ladies can go to the washroom and get the products for free to help them continue on with their education and not have to worry about ‘I can’t get up because I am bleeding on my seat and no one will help me,’” Chapa LaVia said.
School administrators believe the current policy of providing menstrual products in the nurse’s office is the best option. “Our job is to try and do the best job we can to provide the feminine hygiene products for our students,” Principal Dr. Darrell Echols said. “We are in line with every piece of the law, except the one area that says ‘makes them available in the bathrooms.’ They are available. They are at no cost, but we do not place them in the bathrooms for sanitary and hygiene reasons.”
Some students question the district’s reasoning behind the lack of implementation. “They should put them in every bathroom because if they are able to put the garbage cans to dispose of the products, why can’t they put the pads and tampons in there?” senior Camille Larry said.
In reporting by The Stampede last May, Metea administrators expressed concern about vandalism and product misuse to explain why these products aren’t placed in bathrooms. However, in District 203, where tampons and sanitary pads are provided in girl’s bathrooms, there have been no issues with product misuse.
At Naperville Central High School, hygiene products have been made available to students in restrooms since the second semester of last school year, as a direct result of the act.“I think [the school bathroom] is the easiest place of access. Sometimes you aren’t planning on needing products, so to have it right there is a lot easier and less embarrassing for some students,” Naperville Central assistant principal Carrie McFadden said.
For some students, retrieving products in the nurse’s office is a major inconvenience. “The reality is, there is some girl out there that is too scared to say anything, and she isn’t going to ask to go to the nurse or ask her teacher,” senior India Williams said.
For Chapa LaVia, it is important for students to be able to easily access feminine hygiene products. “Where is the first place these students are going when they have an issue? They are going to the washroom. So it is the most logical place,” Chapa LaVia said.
Last week, Metea administrators placed laminated signs in each Metea girls’ bathroom in an effort to raise awareness about where students can find menstrual products. The signs read, “Feminine Products are Available in the Nurse’s Office.”
Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Dr. Louis Lee declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement provided through district spokesperson Janet Buglio, Lee said, “Building administrators have posted signs in restrooms to make sure students are aware of the availability of feminine hygiene products at no cost to students. Those signs let students know the products are available from the nurse and also accessible inside the bathrooms in the nurse’s office.”
Currently, signs are not displayed in bathrooms at Waubonsie Valley or Neuqua Valley High School, according to students who attend school there.
According to Metea Valley school nurse Elizabeth Grant, the menstrual products in the nurse’s office are funded by a combination of PTSA donations and custodial funds, and are intended for emergency situations. “It is if they don’t have their own supply. I didn’t want it to appear that we are providing for all of the female students in the school and that you can come to school without trying to provide your own,” Grant said.
While the district is not in full compliance, there are no punishments built into this law. “This law doesn’t come down heavy on punishment, it’s just asking for these things to be provided for the female population. It depends on the student body and what kind of relationship they have with the administration and to make sure that they are complying. That’s part of the issue for us as legislators because it is up to the school board to follow through with this for the safety and wellbeing of the children,” Chapa LaVia said.
According to Lee, the district believes it is already in compliance with the law.
Despite the district’s effort to inform students of the location of the products, some Metea Valley students are upset with the lack of compliance. “The law is the law and it was passed for a reason,” Williams said. “No one likes being on their period and schools should do their best to accommodate for the girls that aren’t always prepared.”
Throughout the United States, period-related inconveniences impact students’ education and lives. In a study published by The Independent, research shows that an average of 7% of students between the ages of 10 to 18 has been forced to skip school during their period. “Period related pain is also a leading cause of absenteeism amongst girls in school in the United States, so anything we can do to alleviate period management is worthwhile,” Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD.org Nadya Okamoto said.
According to the Illinois Report Card, over 20% of Metea students are classified as low-income students. The average woman is estimated to spend roughly $62.49 on menstrual products annually, and with 20% of Metea’s student body already financially burdened, some students cannot afford to purchase their own products.
For some students, going to the nurse’s office during class is an inconvenience. In addition, Williams mentioned not wanting to leave class or approach her teacher unless it was an emergency situation. Students can also feel embarrassed about discussing their periods with teachers or once they enter the nurse’s office.
“Keeping products in the nurse’s office creates a barrier to access for menstruators who may not feel comfortable voicing their needs. The time that it takes to find and walk to the nurse’s office and then find where they are located (if available, at all) takes away from valuable potential classroom time. By placing them in the bathroom, these products become readily available to those who need them,” Okamoto said.
For Chapa LaVia, providing products in bathrooms reduces the time spent seeking these products. “It is just the freedom to know that mother nature is happening and I can go right into my washroom and not having to worry about whether or not I have pads or tampons in my backpack,” Chapa LaVia said. “That my school is going to take care of me and respect me enough to provide them there for me.”
Editor’s note: This article has been edited to include an interview with Metea Valley school nurse Elizabeth Grant.