This article was written by Maryssa Rossi, a student in the journalism class here at U-32.
“It’s right to be able to have [period] products when you need them,” said Amber Larabee, a school nurse at U-32 said.
U-32’s Changemakers class has begun putting out baskets of period products in the girl’s bathrooms and gender-neutral bathrooms. The baskets have tampons and pads and a sign above with information. They also would like to incorporate sustainable products into the mix.
For now, the baskets only hold “one size fits all” pads and tampons. Soon, Changemakers plan to include different sizes. ”We were starting off with the products that the school already had in stock,” said Elly Budliger, a sophomore in Changemakers at U-32.
A concern the administration and the Changemakers had was vandalism. They started with the posters over the baskets to try and prevent it and, ”emails went out, but we wanted to start with a level of trust in the community that people would not abuse them,” said Elly. “If things started to happen, we would kind of go from there, working on figuring out how we could stop vandalism of the products.” There have been no reports of vandalism with the products and they hope to keep it that way.
The Changemakers thought of making period products accessible in a brainstorming session about things in the school community they could help with, “And this came up and we thought it was a good idea. So it just kind of decided to do it,” said Elly. They then had to talk to the administration about the idea and they were on board.
Vermont passed a law on June 7, 2021 that requires schools to have free menstrual products. According to the Vermont General Assembly, the official site of the Legislature of Vermont, “a majority of gender-neutral bathrooms and bathrooms designated for female students that are generally used by students who are eight years of age or older.”
The Changemakers has been stocking the high school bathrooms Sue Verchereau, an administrative assistant, has been stocking the middle school bathrooms. “At the beginning of COVID. She just said, ‘I’m just going to do it.’ So she restocks the baskets in the girl’s bathroom,” said Karen Liebermann, a co-teacher in Changemakers.
The law also said, “School districts and approved independent schools shall bear the cost of supplying menstrual products and may seek grants or partner with a nonprofit or community-based organization to fulfill this obligation.” This means that the law will be fully funded by the school and will not get help from the state. U-32 will use up the leftover product from previous years then the new product will go into the maintenance budget.
According to the VTDigger, a local Vermont newspaper, “Other school officials have complained — gently — that the new requirement will be borne by local district budgets. But they have said they nevertheless support the measure, which is not expected to be particularly expensive.”
The measured amount is around $50,000 to $60,000 yearly according to a Fiscal Note by Mark Perrault a senior Fiscal analyst for Vermont. It was hard to get an estimate due to many factors, a couple being, “Menstrual products are already provided to students at no cost in some schools through their nurse’s office. Some students would prefer to use their own menstrual products rather than those provided at no cost by their school.” The cost to insert a dispenser will be about $120,000 to $180,000 for about 300 schools in Vermont but that is not required in the law.
Karen Liebermann has helped get U-32 some new dispensers, ”You don’t have to pay for them. But there’s a timed release so that you can’t empty the dispenser,” said Karen. The dispensers are stuck in manufacturing delays so they aren’t sure when they will come in.
The baskets and dispensers aren’t the only ways to get period products. There are now weekend bags in the nurse’s office that students can grab to use, “We realized that, over weekends and school breaks and stuff, people might not have access to products. So we’ve been working on making little bags that we could distribute to TAs and to the nurse for anybody that wanted to get them for the weekend,” said Elly.
The Changemakers and the new Period Project Club meet every Wednesday callback to get products ready for bathrooms and get weekend bags made to put in the nurse’s office. But they don’t want to stop there, “We’re trying to get enough to go to TAs so that ideally every adult in the building is also a person that you could go to to get one of these nondescript paper bags that has period products in it. But we need to get enough bags together to be able to do that,” said Karen.
According to an NPR podcast by Mansee Khurana, other states like California and Michigan are open to the laws, “California became the latest to do so, mandating that public schools and colleges stock free pads, tampons and other products in their restrooms. In Michigan, the city of Ann Arbor recently passed a law to stock all public toilets with menstrual products.”
Other states aren’t open to it, “In Florida, legislation that would require free products in school restrooms has been introduced twice, but has yet to pass.” Leading students like Mahoro Amani to advocate for themselves.
Mahoro Amani was a 10th grader at Miami Arts Charter High School, in Florida. “Amani is the president of the school’s student council, and they’re working with others on the council to get free menstrual products in the school’s restrooms. However, administrators have told them there are no plans to use school funds to do so,” said Khurana.
In Vermont and at U-32 in particular, the community has supported making these products available. As Karen said, “It was a change that a lot of people have wanted to make.”