According to a law passed in 2018, Illinois school districts must provide feminine hygiene products in women’s restrooms free of charge. Despite this, the feminine hygiene product dispensers located in the female restrooms of East are unstocked, meaning that unprepared high school students must go to the nurse’s office for the needed items. Due to this, female students are faced with a stressful situation in the case of an unanticipated period.
In the past, East decided to supplement the female restrooms with updated feminine hygiene product dispensers and a test run was held to observe student reactions to the new update.
Assistant Principal Margaret Darnell recalled the negative reaction of students in regards to the new restroom update. Custodians reported that students covered the walls with pads and clogged toilets with feminine hygiene products in one of the main bathrooms. The same thing happened the next day. Darnell stated that they are not fully stocked due to these incidents.
Darnell added that she is fully aware of the law that demands that feminine hygiene products should be free and available to the female student body in the women’s restroom. She said that this school year is the first year where there is a lack of accessible feminine hygiene product dispensers.
Although Darnell said that the 2019-2020 school year is the first year that the dispensers have not been in functioning order, senior Erin Andrea said that she has never seen a stocked dispenser in her four years at East.
“… In all the years I’ve been here, there’s never been access to feminine hygiene products [in the restrooms],” Andrea said.
Junior Alana Wurzbacher expressed the same sentiment, saying that the dispensers have not worked for her in the past.
“… The three years I’ve been here, they’ve never worked once,” Wurzbacher added.
Out of all of the interviews conducted by the publication, Senior Cecilia Frias was the only student who said that she had seen a stocked dispenser. She added that when they were full, the products inside were free of charge, despite the quarter slot on the front.
Starting a cycle unexpectedly and not having hygiene products on hand is not only unsanitary, but it can be extremely stressful. Trying to find sanitary products when they are urgently needed is a hassle, and being prepared at all times is difficult. At the time that the polling was conducted, 18.7% of females at East were not prepared at all to get their cycle.
Many girls, including sophomore Dhru Amin, have experienced the mental and physical stress that the arrival of an unexpected period can ensue. She recalled a time when she was faced with this situation and when she tried to use a feminine product dispenser, it didn’t work.
“It was embarrassing because there were a lot of guys and I don’t want to have to yell out, ”I’m bleeding, I need something,” Amin said.
Amin added that the nurse then asked her to go into the hall and change, but she was reluctant to do so because of her fear.
“Then the nurse actually asked me to go into the hallway and change. Like I’ve already been sitting in it for a while so A, that’s not sanitary and B, I don’t know if I’ll make it,” Amin added. “So I used her bathroom and she was nice about it. But it was kind of an awkward situation because I needed to change now.”
Although there are modernized ways to track periods, there is no way to be completely positive of when a cycle will begin. According to a poll conducted by the publication, only 29.2% of female students consider themselves very prepared for the abrupt arrival of a period.
Being faced with this situation can also serve as a distraction from school work. Junior Camden Pullen said that when she was faced with this dilemma, she was worried about it the entire day.
“I was nervous that I was going to bleed through my clothes, which would’ve been embarrassing,” Pullen added. “It ruined my mood to be honest. It’s a stressful situation.”
The school does provide pads and tampons in the nurse’s office, which is located in the front of the building. According to Wurzbacher, making the trip down to the nurse’s office is an inconvenience.
“I don’t like to go to the nurse because it takes away from valuable class time, when I could just go to the bathroom, take 30 seconds, and just get out. Not run across the school to get one,” Wurzbacher said.
Leaving class to get a pad or tampon is not only seen as an issue to the girls who are missing out on class time, but also to male students. Senior Joel Johnson said that going to get feminine hygiene products can result in the loss of class time.
“Schools should replace the broken ones so they’re all in order,” Johnson said. “They seem to stock vending machines, why can’t they fix those?”
When a female student goes to the nurse to ask for a feminine hygiene product, they are asked for 25 cents. According to Darnell, any fees associated with these products are considered donations. Nurse Maggie Elliot said that even if a student didn’t have 25 cents, she would give them the product.
“A lot of students come in and they don’t even have a quarter to get something, so I’m going to give them feminine hygiene products so that way they can stay in school and not have to go home if they have an accident,” Elliott said.
The law that was enacted January 1st, 2018 also states that feminine hygiene products must be provided free of charge to female students. Darnell stated that another reason the machines do not work is because they require a quarter to function.
According to Frias, The products within the dispensers were free when they were stocked during her junior year. She recalled the convenience of the readily accessible products.
“I remember there was one point in the school year, last year, when the [dispensers] in the locker rooms were full. And that was super helpful,” Frias said. “When it was full, [feminine hygiene products] didn’t cost money.”
Based on a poll conducted by the publication, 68% of female East students have never been to the nurse to ask for a feminine hygiene product. 31.1% of females, in the case of starting their period unexpectedly, would go to the bathroom and use toilet paper for the day instead of going to the nurse.
“I don’t like going down to the nurse’s office because it … takes a lot of time out of my day,” Frias said.
Kinetic Wellness teacher Micheal Heath took all factors into consideration — including the newly implemented backpack rule — when he commented on the role that the school should play in providing these hygiene products.
“[Due to the new rule], women have the opportunity to discreetly bring products from outside the school as well,” Heath added. “These products are available during the day now that backpacks are allowed in all locations, so I understand the opposing view of not providing all locations with products as well.”
Heath went on to point out that there are possible risks for female students who do not change out sanitary products throughout the day.
“Conditions that can occur for not changing products are known as Toxic Shock Syndrome, Vaginitis and other complications from unsanitary hygiene,” Heath said.
Female students expressed that the absence of accessible feminine hygiene product dispensers is inconvenient, and Nurse Maggie Elliot said that the nurse’s had the same opinion on the topic as well.
“It seems like a lot of our female students come down to the nurses office to get feminine hygiene products because the dispensers do not work in the bathrooms,” Elliott said.
Her solution to fixing the issue is by making it more affordable or making it so that the machines don’t eat the quarters. Frias also proposed a solution to the problem, taking things like budget and student accessibility into account.
“I think first of all, you shouldn’t make girls pay for having to use tampons because that’s not their fault,” Frias said. “I don’t think it has to be every bathroom, especially if they’re going to be free, but if it was the main one’s I think it would be very helpful.”
Troi Howell & Kennedy Keaton are staff writers for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl