Students lead push for free menstrual products in Minnesota schools

A student of the "Girl Up" club stocks a school bathroom with free pads and tampons to push for menstrual equity at Justice High School in Falls Church, Va.
Alastair Pike | AFP via Getty Images 2019

Columbia Heights High School senior Amina Jama can still recall being a freshman needing to see the school nurse in the middle of the day to get a menstrual pad. The nurse asked her for 25 cents, but Jama didn’t have it. 

To get the pad, Jama had to write down her name on a list of students who’d needed similar help — “a list that went several pages.”

It led her to write an essay for her school newspaper asking why tampons and pads couldn’t be available to students for free. Before publishing, she said, she and the nurse spoke with school leaders who decided students should not have to pay.

While applauding the move, “I just wish I didn’t have to ask in the first place,” Jama told reporters Monday as she and other students and student advocates threw their support behind a bill that would require all Minnesota districts to provide free menstrual products in school restrooms for grades four through 12.

“Every single day students come to my health office for period products,” said Tom Stinson, a nurse at St. Paul’s Harding High School. “Many students don't have the money or the means to get period products.”

And that can lead to students having to go home and miss the rest of the school day.

“Pads and tampons are really as essential as pencils and test papers as school supplies and really shouldn’t be treated any differently than toilet paper and hand soap in bathrooms,” said Beth Gendler, executive director of Minnesota’s National Council of Jewish Women.

A recent study commissioned by national groups advocating for free menstrual products in schools showed 23 percent of students surveyed said they struggled to pay for period products. More than half said they had worn products longer than safely recommended.

The Minnesota bill would provide $2 million in funding.

“It’s a relatively small amount of money when we think about how much money we spend trying to help kids catch up, because when they miss school, they’re falling behind,” said Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, the bill’s lead author. 

“We were accustomed to this just being an issue that was on our shoulders to always have. And I became really frustrated with this,” said Elif Ozturk, a sophomore at Hopkins High School and one of the early advocates for free pads and tampons in school restrooms.

“That’s why I think it’s so important to fix this small issue that’s going to impact so many lives in a beneficial way,” Ozturk said.