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Bill would require Colorado middle and high schools to provide free period products

Elizabeth Hernandez, The Denver Post on

Published in News & Features

DENVER — Colorado middle and high schools would be required to provide free period products in their restrooms under a bill now in the state legislature, with the legislation’s sponsors equating pads and tampons to essential items students need like nutritious meals and books.

The bill’s Democratic sponsors — Rep. Brianna Titone, of Arvada; Rep. Jenny Willford, of Northglenn; Sen. Janet Buckner, of Aurora; and Sen. Faith Winter, of Westminster — said at a Thursday news conference at the state Capitol that a lack of access to period products in schools resulted in absenteeism, health issues and emotional distress for teens who may not have the money or transportation to obtain the products they need.

“No one should face barriers in their education due to a lack of access to essential items,” Winter said.

During an Education Committee hearing Thursday — one in which men left the room, a legislator note during testimony — the bill, HB24-1164, advanced on a 7-4 vote. The legislation now heads to the Appropriations Committee.

According to data provided by Denver-based Justice Necessary — an organization that tackles hygiene poverty — 90% of female teens in Colorado have started their period unexpectedly in public without the supplies they needed. Eighty percent of female teens in Colorado have missed class due to a lack of period products, Justice Necessary said. And the number of Colorado teens who lack access to period products has climbed from 77% in 2021 to 80% in 2023.

“It translates to students missing before- or after-school activities and students missing out on their education by not being in class,” said Diane Cushman Neal, founder and president of Justice Necessary.

The new bill builds on the Menstrual Hygiene Products Accessibility Grant Program, signed into law in 2021, that aimed to provide free menstrual hygiene products to students. The grant program allows schools to use grant money to purchase menstrual hygiene products and install dispensers and disposal receptacles.

In the 2021-22 academic year, about $100,000 in funding was awarded to 40 districts and schools through the grant. The following year, another $100,000 was awarded to 32 districts and schools.

The current bill would supplement the grant program, Titone said, and mandates the state allocate $400,000 to the program for the 2024-25 fiscal year.

“Providing period products is not going to drain budgets,” she said. “What is the cost of dignity to students?”

The bill would require education providers, except for small rural school districts, to provide free period products in bathrooms accessible to students in sixth to 12th grade who menstruate in at least half of all buildings beginning July 1, 2025.

A year later, on July 1, 2026, all schools would be required to provide the products in all buildings with bathrooms accessible to students who menstruate.

 

Michelle Murphy, executive director of Colorado Rural Schools Alliance, and Melissa Gibson, deputy executive director of Colorado Association of School Executives, opposed the bill during testimony, noting it would create an unfunded mandate that would “drain district resources” and lead to vandalism and “substantial disruptions” if teens abused the menstrual products.

More than 35 districts and schools already provide free period products across Colorado, according to bill testimony.

Denver Public Schools, among the districts that provides free period products to its 90,000 students, supported the bill in testimony. A DPS employee who oversees the distribution of menstrual products testified Thursday that the school district spent $19,000 on period products in 2022 and $17,000 in 2023.

Nineteen states already mandate free menstrual products in school restrooms.

During testimony, doctors, students, school staff and parents testified in support of the bill, sharing intimate stories of times they’ve bled through their pants in school hallways and wished for better access to hygiene products that could help them learn and avoid embarrassment.

Aubrey Iverson, a high school student at Stargate Charter School, said during testimony that getting your first period can be overwhelming and nerve-wracking.

“Students may be embarrassed to talk to an adult about their period or need for products, which becomes a barrier for many students at my school in accessing them,” Iverson said. “It was a frustrating process where students compromised their dignity and comfort to alleviate a basic bodily function as well as going out of our way to the nurses’ office simply to get period products. Not to mention, the option to even get these products there was widely unknown among menstruators — formerly myself included.”

After working on the issue with school administrators, Iverson said her school installed free period product dispensers in the girls’ and gender-neutral bathrooms.

“Menstruation is not something to be hidden or endured silently,” Willford said. “Access to period products should not be a luxury.”

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