BPS Students Will Get Free Menstrual Products This Fall, But There’s a Catch

Boston is following neighbors' lead on period parity. Critics say the city isn't going far enough.

Mayor’s Office photo by Don Harney

Boston has long been lagging behind in the local charge toward period parity.

As women across the country demand more progressive policies regarding the cost and distribution of menstrual products, local high schoolers are taking note. Teens throughout the Greater Boston area have pushed school administrators to encourage franker conversations about periods and provide free menstrual products in their schools. Cambridge Rindge and Latin School began providing pads and tampons in dispensers in school bathrooms in early 2017. A similar program at Somerville High School followed later in the year. Last month, Brookline voted to become the first U.S. municipality to provide free menstrual products in all restrooms—men’s and women’s—in public buildings, an initiative spearheaded by Brookline High School students.

Now Boston is finally catching up. Mayor Marty Walsh announced Monday the investment of $100,000 into a pilot program that will supply schools with free menstrual supplies. The program will launch this fall in the 77 BPS schools that teach grades 6-12. “This pilot program is about equity in our schools, and among our young people,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement. “I’m proud BPS continues to be a leader in equity, ensuring our students have the resources they need, and access to the same opportunities.”

But some say the policy doesn’t go far enough. Unlike in neighboring cities, Boston students will not have access to the products in bathrooms, and will have to go to a nurse’s office to request them. After the pilot, select teachers will also partner with nurses to distribute menstrual supplies. Having to whisper-ask a teacher for a product during a lesson, or trek to the nurse’s office and miss precious class time, is potentially embarrassing or inconvenient, critics say.

“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,” Manikka Bowman, a Cambridge School Committee member, told the Boston Globe. “We are trying to put girls in a position where they can take care of themselves on their own terms.”

Periods, activists point out, are a universal phenomenon that half the population experiences—yet while toilet paper, soap, and paper towels are a given in any school bathroom, one in five girls in the U.S. has left school early or missed school because they didn’t have access to menstrual products. For low-income students especially, who may not be able to purchase sufficient amounts of pads and tampons, menstruation can stand in the way of education.