Despite new state law, filling period product needs of one high school is still a struggle

Keeping restrooms stocked with necessary period products has proved to be a challenge at Cordova High School.
Keeping restrooms stocked with necessary period products has proved to be a challenge at Cordova High School.

Cordova High School continues to struggle complying with a 2021 state law that requires public schools to maintain an adequate supply of free menstrual products in restrooms at all times.

The problems of empty and vandalized dispensers, which Sac School Beat reported on in a 2023 story, persist this year. Students say the school’s current reliance on daily restocking of dispensers is inadequate to meet the law’s mandate.

“I think it’s more so a matter of how many people in our student body need access to free period products,” junior Zoe Lobbestael said. “Most of the times I go in it’s during lunch and by that time the machines are empty. So it seems to me that the once-daily restock isn’t enough.” 

Folsom Cordova Unified School District officials say they are committed to ensuring compliance with the menstrual product requirements.

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“We also share your interest in ensuring that menstrual products are appropriately stocked in our school restrooms and the importance of adhering to (the 2021 law),” district superintendent Sarah Kooligan said in an email. “My team will look into the matters at the Cordova HS restrooms.

Since 2017, legislation in California has sought to ensure sufficient access to period products in public schools. The legislative focus stems from concerns related to gender equity, the well-being of students both physically and mentally, and the potential impact on their education.

AB 367, a state law enacted in 2021, requires all California public schools that maintain classes in grades 6-12 to provide free menstrual products in all women’s restrooms, every all-gender restroom and at least one men’s restroom. Called the “Menstrual Equity for All Act,” the law says the supply must be adequate and available “at all times.”

Schools also must post a notice about the requirement in the restrooms. The notice must include the text of the law’s provision that establishes the mandate, and the email address and phone number of the person responsible for maintaining the supply. AB 367’s requirements took effect starting with the 2022-2023 school year. (A 2023 law extended the requirements to cover grades 3, 4 and 5.)

It the California Legislature’s findings and declarations about why the mandate is needed, AB 367 states:

  • “The provision of menstrual products in schools helps ensure California provides equal access to education,” a right guaranteed by the state Constitution.
  • Students without adequate access to menstrual products “experience higher rates of absenteeism and are less able to focus and engage in the classroom. Absenteeism can lead to significant performance gaps and is linked to social disengagement, feelings of alienation, and adverse outcomes even into adulthood. ”
  • “Inadequate menstrual support is associated with both health and psychosocial issues, particularly among low-income people. A lack of access to menstrual products can cause emotional distress, physical infection, and disease.”

In 2023, Cordova High School had six bathrooms for students, and the school’s only reliable sources of period products were in female locker rooms and from the school nurse, according to Sac School Beat’s findings in last year’s story. Restroom dispensers often were not stocked, or were broken or vandalized. In addition, the required notices were not posted in the restrooms.   

In 2024, a check of the school’s six bathrooms over a one-week period found dispensers consistently empty and that all were vandalized with graffiti. The required notice was posted, but it still did not contain contact information for the person responsible for maintaining the supply. There is a cart outside the nurse’s office however with products that students can take. 

Cordova High principal Amy Strawn said custodial staff fill the dispensers nightly in every female bathroom and the boys’ A-wing bathroom, where there are menstrual products.  Additionally, Strawn said she meets annually with a Schools Insurance Authority (SIA) representative who informs her on new compliance and state regulations. 

“This one specifically has been a part of meetings I’ve had for many years,” she said.  

Strawn says one way for the district and school administration to address access problems is to meet with Cordova’s custodial team regularly and for them to let staff know when machines are empty.

The custodian staff works after school from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day.  One campus security officer (CSO), said custodians may not fill the dispensers every night because people waste them.  

“I do think we can do more about educating our students about why we are providing this because sadly, we do see misuse of these products,” the CSO said. “For example, we have seen an increase in students using the product to clog the toilets.”

Cordova High is exploring the idea of having an advisory period for students twice a week beginning the 2024-2025 school year. 

Though not an instant remedy, Strawn said this approach would offer specific time during the school day to educate students about essential matters, including period products.

As CHS works to comply with state law, an October 2023 report from Dignity Grows, which focused on how period product scarcity affects students from low-income families, highlighted why adequate access is important.“Students who do manage to attend school despite Period Poverty often face the discomfort and anxiety associated with inadequate supplies,” according to How Does Period Poverty Affect Education. “This can lead to diminished self-esteem, reduced classroom engagement, and a lack of focus on their studies. As a result, these students may not fully benefit from the educational opportunities available to them.”

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