Denver, CO

Board gives initial approval to Denver schools' menstrual care program

David Heitz

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(Denver, Colo.) The Denver School Board approved the first reading Thursday of a policy that makes the district's menstrual care program permanent.

"The superintendent and staff will regularly maintain and re-supply easily accessible menstrual hygiene products for K-12 students in need of supplies to alleviate the financial burden on families and to reduce the stigma and ongoing impact associated with Period Poverty," the directive reads.

The board must approve the directive again next week to make it official.

"Period poverty is when many of our students and families have unequal access to menstrual care and education," said Director of Facilities Management Trena Marsal.

The program started after a student contacted the board in 2019. The district funded the program temporarily last year.

"All 813 dispensers were installed and filled between November 2020 and January 2021," according to a report. "From March 24, 2021, through January 4, 2022, Facility Management supplied an additional 139 cases of tampons and 176 cases of menstrual napkins to 39 of the 74 schools. This provided an additional 69,500 tampons and 44,000 menstrual napkins to our students that need them most."

Student activist saves families money

Student Caitlyn Soch said having to go to the nurse's office to ask for menstrual supplies was "body shaming," Marsal said. Allowing students to get supplies from a restroom machine offers privacy and dignity.

Previously, some teachers stocked their rooms with tampons and sanitary napkins, discretely supplying students when needed. Marsal said many students' families must decide between buying sanitary napkins or other household necessities.

She said the program is not in every elementary school. She has sent tampons and sanitary napkins to schools that request them because some adolescents begin menstruating early.

Marsal noted some students miss class due to their menstrual cycle because they lack supplies. Putting tampons and sanitary napkins in school bathrooms solves that problem.

Treating feminine hygiene products like toilet paper

School Board Vice President Tay Anderson said he recalls going to the state capitol with Soch and lobbying for legislation. He said Republican lawmakers did not see a need to supply the tampons and sanitary napkins statewide.

Anderson said supplying feminine hygiene products reflects the district's values. The district does not discuss whether to provide toilet paper. Feminine hygiene products should not be any different, he said. "We hope we are ending the stigma."

Thousands of menstrual supplies in 813 restrooms

Putting tampons in the schools' restrooms was a huge project. Dispensers were placed in 813 restrooms, serving 24,000 students. The program costs about $12,000 per month or $108,000. That’s based on a nine-month school calendar.

The district spent more than $30,000 to start the program and received donations to help. "The Cushman Neal Family and TOP Organic partnered to donate a total of 59,000 menstrual napkins, tampons and liners in May 2021," according to a staff report.

Home Depot donated a crew to install dispensers, Marsal said.

The district initially bought 240 cases of 500 tampons and 280 cases of 250 menstrual napkins.

Marsal said that the district plans to use Google sheets to order the supplies promptly and track how much they are spending.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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