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City and School District Working Together for Free and Accessible Menstrual Products

Access expanding in municipal buildings alongside pilot in Columbus City Schools to provide menstrual products in restrooms

liz despenser 2

Council Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown uses a menstrual product dispenser at the Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls, as City Schools Superintendent/CEO Dr. Talisa Dixon laughs in the background.

Columbus, Ohio – Council President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown and Columbus City Schools Superintendent/CEO Dr. Talisa Dixon announced today, August 23, 2019, a joint effort to improve menstrual product access by making them available inside bathrooms. The first day of school also marked the beginning of a pilot program in the District at the Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls (CCPSG). The City, in addition to expanding access across its fleet of recreation centers, will phase in access in all municipal buildings starting with its downtown campus.

“A monthly period is a normal bodily function for half the population just as going to the bathroom is for everyone, but there isn’t any evidence of this in most bathrooms,” said President Pro Tem Brown. “While free toilet paper and soap are universally provided in public restrooms, this is rarely, if ever, the case with tampons and pads.”

A national study commissioned by Free the Tampons, a Columbus-based non-profit that aims to end restroom inequality, found that 86 percent of women have started their periods while out in public without the supplies they need — 79 percent end up creating makeshift substitutes out of toilet paper. Inadequate access to menstrual products is also connected to unhealthy overuse of singular products and to lost productivity at school and work.

As part of the District’s pilot at CCPSG, half a dozen free dispensers have been installed in the bathrooms and include messaging that encourages students with questions about their menstrual cycle to talk with the school nurse.

"We always strive to eliminate barriers to academic success for our students, and this program speaks to those ongoing efforts," said Dr. Dixon. "While we have made menstrual products available to girls in the nurse's office for quite some time, this new pilot program have made them even more accessible and more convenient. Our school nurses, of course, will still be available to answer questions or address concerns, but the convenience factor of having the dispenser in the restroom will allow our students to be more focused on learning."

For more than 40 years, menstrual products have been available to the District’s students through the school nurse’s office. Making them readily accessible ensures that students will have the products at the time of need: in the bathroom. “As menstrual products move into bathrooms in the District, school nurses will continue a decades-long tradition serving as a valuable resource to menstruating students,” said Columbus City Schools Director of Health, Family and Community Services Kate King. “The school nurse is a trusted ally, expert and confidant who can provide health education and counseling to students about their developing bodies.” 

In 2017, the City launched a pilot program that made menstrual products free and accessible in select recreation centers. Because of its success, the City is currently in the process of extending that same access in all recreation centers. Following this announcement, the City will also phase in menstrual product access across municipal buildings, beginning with the downtown campus that includes City Hall, the Michael B. Coleman Building, the Columbus Police Headquarters, and 77 North Front Street.

“We’re taking critical steps forward in the effort to improve menstrual product access and to fight the stigma that has for too long precluded a conversation about a basic need experienced by half our population,” said President Pro Tem Brown. “Can you think of any restroom outside your home where you are expected to bring a roll of toilet paper with you into the stall? Unlikely. Menstrual products should be no different.”