Mayor Martin J. Walsh has taken a stance in the fight for accessible menstrual products, rolling out a pilot program providing free tampons and pads to all 77 Boston Public Schools serving students in grades 6 through 12.
While touted as a step forward by Walsh and Interim Boston Public School Superintendent Laura Perille, some have already criticized the attempt as inadequate.
The $100,000 investment is part of Walsh’s budget for fiscal year 2020, resubmitted Monday to the Boston City Council. The program goes into effect this fall.
“This pilot program is about equity in our schools, and among our young people,” Walsh said in a statement. “Nearly one in five girls in the U.S. have left school early, or missed school all together, because they didn’t have access to menstrual products.”
Boston Public Schools Health Services will order the menstrual products and distribute them to school nurses’ offices across the city. Schools will receive refills as needed throughout the year. After the initial pilot, nurses will partner with selected teachers who will also give out menstrual supplies.
To critics, however, the program is not nearly progressive enough. Manikka Bowman, a Cambridge School Committee member who champions menstrual equity, described Walsh’s plan as “a bit antiquated,” although she appreciated the sentiment. The whole point of the current movement, she said, is to provide products in the bathroom, so students don’t have to go to the nurse’s office or approach a teacher.
“Our young people did not want to be in a situation where they had to go to an educator, particularly a male educator. It was uncomfortable for them,” she said. “We are trying to put girls in a position where they can take care of themselves on their own terms.”
In the local world of period parity, Boston schools are not a front-runner. Brookline decided at a town meeting last month to start providing free menstrual products in all public bathrooms by 2021. Cambridge and Somerville schools already provide free menstrual products to students.
Boston city councilors had proposed providing free menstrual products in schools, in part due to the large population of low-income students in the city. The hope is that these students can attend school, even if they are ill-equipped to deal with their periods.
In some low-income schools, female educators will provide students with menstrual products, Bowman said, but that shouldn’t be their responsibility.
“If you don’t have a female leader, you’re probably not thinking about it,” Bowman said. “If you take the burden off educators, if you do it from an institutional perspective, then they can focus on meeting the academic needs of our students.”