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Period supplies in schools are critical to education and health, schools and advocates say

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by Lynn Bonner, NC Newsline
May 22, 2024

Every day, North Carolina students who cannot afford period supplies are forced to ask teachers or school staff for feminine hygiene products. Some students miss school because they don’t have tampons or menstrual pads at home. 

Advocates for ending “period poverty,” the lack of access to supplies due to lack of income, met at the Legislative Building on Wednesday to emphasize the importance the issue has for education and student health. 

Public school districts and charter schools eagerly dipped into a state grant program for feminine hygiene products that the legislature started in 2021 with $250,000. 

Schools are able to obtain up to $5,000 a year for supplies. The current budget increased total funding to $500,000 a year. 

Michelle Schaefer-Old, founder and CEO of the Diaper Bank of NC, said they wanted to thank legislators for what they’ve done so far, and to encourage them “to add to it.” The Diaper Bank founded the Period Power Coalition, a group of organizations working to end period poverty. 

In the state grant program’s first two years, the money ran out within a week, according to state Department of Public Instruction reports. DPI was not able to award money to all applicants. 

In one week, DPI received 149 applications for grant money and made 64 awards, according to a March 2024 report to legislators. The report covered a period during which $250,000 was available. DPI fields questions about the grant throughout the year.

“Responses to the grant application demonstrated a great need for feminine hygiene products to be available in school, as school may be the only place some students have access to these products,” the DPI report says. 

“As many grantees indicated, there is a direct link between student academic success and the provision of hygiene products in school. When students know that they can access hygiene products at school and do not experience anxiety and fear of not knowing when or where they will have the products they need, they are able to learn better and are more likely to stay at and come to school during their periods. The grant program has not only helped students stay in school during their menstrual cycles but has also helped provide educational opportunities for maintaining good hygiene to reduce instances of infections.”

Period poverty has become a national focus and drawn the attention of governments, nonprofits, and students. 

“As these reports have stated and evidence has clearly shown, there is a great need for these products to be available in school,” said state Rep. Julie von Haefen, a Wake County Democrat. 

One-quarter of U.S. students who menstruate experienced period poverty in 2021, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies. Nine states pay for the period products they require schools to stock, according to the alliance. Ten states and Washington, DC have a requirement but don’t pay for it. Eight states, including North Carolina, provide some funding. 

The Period Power Coalition is able to provide supplies to about 350 to 400 schools, said coordinator Mia Kuykendall. That leaves thousands of schools without supplies, she said, with the state grant helping to fill that gap. 

Kuykendall said she experienced period poverty as a student in Charlotte and missed school and opportunities because neither she nor her school had supplies. 

This is still happening to students, she said. “They’re missing out on so much because their schools cannot access these supplies.”

Elise Chang co-founded the organization Free Period at Chapel Hill High School in the fall of 2022. Through fundraising and donations, Free Period provided students with more than 16,000 products, she said. 

“Free Period has been monumental for the Chapel Hill High community,” Chang said. “Gone are the days of worrying if you’ve packed enough products for the day, if you have sleeves conducive to hiding a tampon or if you will simply be able to afford a box of pads, which are actually taxed as luxury goods in North Carolina. Students have informed us that Free Period being on campus makes their lives easier.”

Chang said she’s proud of the work Free Period has done, but “students should not be responsible for financing critical resources.”

The organization will continue to combat the stigma around menstruation and stock school bathrooms, she said. 

“This work cannot be done alone,” Chang said. “So we are looking to our legislators for that support.”

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This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.