Oregon mom challenges state rule on tampons in boys’ bathrooms

Austin De Dios / Oregonlive.com (TNS)

The way Cherylene Stritenberg says she sees it, the problem comes down to cost. A board member of the Eagle Point School District near Medford, Stritenberg is also a mom. She wants more money for school supplies and books, she said.

And she fears that a state law that comes into full effect in the 2022-23 school year to require K-12 public schools, community colleges and universities to provide menstrual products free in all bathrooms, including boys’ bathrooms, an additional expense. in a state that is already struggling to graduate more than 80% of its high school students.

Acting alone, she petitioned the Oregon Department of Education to overturn the Menstrual Dignity Act, to demand that it require schools to provide free tampons and pads “in at least two bathrooms “, triggering a two-week public comment period on its own. which ends July 20.

To foot the bill, the Oregon Legislative Revenue Office estimated in 2021 that the state would redirect about $5.6 million from the State School Fund in the first biennium — real money but a tiny fraction of the overall budget. of $9.3 billion. That’s enough to pay about 30 teachers a year in a system of 31,000 statewide.

In the Eagle Point district, which has fewer than 4,000 students, annual costs will not exceed $17,000. Still, Stritenberg — who has also called on the state to lift COVID-19 vaccination requirements for teachers and volunteers — says the money would be better spent elsewhere.

“Hopefully we can re-evaluate and come up with a better solution that is fiscally responsible and beneficial to those in need,” Stritenberg told The Oregonian/Oregonlive.

A bipartisan bill

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek and her Republican rival Christine Drazan seem to agree on few things, but one is the Menstrual Dignity Act.

Kotek, the former Speaker of the House, and Drazan, the former House Minority Leader, voted for the bill on June 24, 2021. In fact, it won overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Oregon, with all but one Representative, a Republican, voting for her. Supporters hailed his promise of free universal access to vintage goods as an important step towards reducing shame and unnecessary expense for students.

The bill as originally introduced required schools to provide period products in gender-neutral and girls’ bathrooms. The final version of the bill, however, defined “bathrooms” to include those for boys, to allow access for transgender and non-binary students.

An assistant to Drazan put an asterisk on her yes vote. “[S]he believes that young women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, should have access to basic feminine hygiene products, regardless of their family life or personal circumstances,” said Trey Rosser, campaign manager for the governor of Drazan. “She also strongly supports local control and believes that school districts should have the ability to enforce the law as they see fit.”

The bill met with more opposition in the Senate, where five Republicans voted against it. Gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic senator from Oregon who is running for unaffiliated governor, originally said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive that she voted against the bill in 2021. video shows she voted for. Her campaign said Saturday that Johnson misremembered how she voted and attributed the confusion to an inaccurate vote count for the bill listed on OregonLive.com. Her campaign now says she thinks it’s a bad idea.

Oregon Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, was the lead sponsor and consulted with students in Oregon and other states before expanding the bill, he said.

“As we know, there are a lot of our young people who don’t identify as female or male or are in gender transition,” Ruiz said. “We wanted to respect that and make sure we provide those resources in all toilets for people who might have trouble switching to different toilets.”

During the 2021-22 school year, as the program rolled out, school districts were required to provide free tampons and pads in “at least two bathrooms,” and they had the discretion to choose which ones.

“It’s for the students”

Several public school districts are already moving forward with the broader requirement.

The Beaverton School District, Portland Public Schools and David Douglas School District have already ordered dispensers for all bathrooms and are installing them, school officials said.

So far, Portland Public Schools has spent about $200,000 on products and dispensers, including larger units for gender-neutral and girls’ bathrooms and smaller units for boys’ bathrooms.

The Beaverton School District spent nearly $300,000. In any case, it is money that the State will reimburse.

If Oregon were to rescind the rule, support districts could continue with broader access, administrators said. Beaverton School District facilities manager Josh Gamez said the district would want to hear from its community first. “If the product is used, we want to support it,” he said. “It’s for the students.”

And David Douglas school district spokesman Dan McCue said he heard no objections in his school district.

In Portland public schools, recently rebuilt campuses like Grant and Lincoln High Schools offer gender-neutral restrooms, making the distinction between boys’ and girls’ restrooms less meaningful.

For community colleges and universities, menstrual products are only required in educational buildings, which means dormitories are exempt from the rule, according to Kyle Thomas, legislative and policy director for the Coordinating Commission of the College. Higher Education.

West Coast Comparisons

Oregon’s rule to require products in all bathrooms goes further than other similar laws on the West Coast.

The original California bill required all school bathrooms to feature vintage products. High costs forced lawmakers to trim the 2021 law to only include toilets for schools in grades six through 12, including at least one boys’ bathroom per school. Community colleges and state universities must have at least one on-campus location to access these products. The schools are reimbursed by the State.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s been influential and brings us closer to a place where menstrual products are available in every bathroom,” said Democrat California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia.

In Washington, public and private K-12 schools are required to provide vintage products for grades six through 12 in all women’s bathrooms and in all gender-neutral bathrooms. Community colleges and universities are also included. If a school does not have gender-neutral toilets, it is required to put menstrual hygiene products in at least one male bathroom. Washington law also requires third- through fifth-grade students to have access to products in at least one location.

In Oregon, the bill includes boys’ restrooms for children as young as kindergarten.

“I think in general we wanted to include all toilets because we never know who might need to use them,” Ruiz said.

Requiring access to menstrual products for students who are likely too young to use them is a waste of resources, said Stritenberg, who is also concerned that some children will misuse the products and cause damage to facilities.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to making these products available, but to demand that we divert funds from our public school funds to ensure they’re specifically included in boys’ bathrooms is misuse of these funds,” she said.

In-game petition

Stritenberg’s petition to restrict Oregon’s law requires the Oregon Department of Education to allow public response before making a decision. The ministry will respond within 90 days of receiving the petition.

Stritenberg said she was not acting on behalf of her school board. Instead, she came forward on issues she heard in her community.

Ruiz is confident the bill will stay intact, but he said he’s open to making changes in the next legislative session.

Daphne Ischer, 17, said she wanted the broader rule to stay in place. She recently graduated from Tualatin High School, where she was a member of the advocacy group PERIOD.

She also testified in support of the Menstrual Dignity Act last year and said it was important that transgender and non-gendered students feel accepted – with menstrual products in every bathroom they could. utilize.

“There aren’t always gender-neutral bathrooms, there aren’t always many, and there isn’t always full access to them,” Ischer said.

Ischer also sees the universal presence of dispensers as an opportunity to begin teaching young students about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. All fourth- and fifth-grade teachers at Portland Public Schools will receive menstruation kits for the upcoming school year, to provide students in their classrooms with visual aids.

“When we start these conversations in class earlier and keep these conversations going, periods become less stigmatized,” Ischer said.

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