Hillcrest Junior High first in state to install free period product dispensersJun 30, 2022 08:53PM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
It looked like a transformation to junior high.
A group of females congregated into the girls’ bathroom at Hillcrest Junior High, smiling and laughing—only this time, the talk didn’t focus on boys, but rather menstrual period products.
With the unanimous passing in the state legislature of HB 162, making free period products available in K-12 public and charter schools’ unisex and female restrooms, Hillcrest began the rollout this summer. With eighth-grader Alyla Ruiz snipping the bright pink ribbon, the dispenser installation in their bathrooms was celebrated by students, educators and advocates.
Utah Period Project founder and president Emily Bell McCormick and other leaders took a subject that once was taboo to publicly discuss and brought it to the forefront.
“Until today, there has been so much stigma around menstruation that you couldn’t say the word,” she said. “We worked with the Utah legislature a couple years before this and there were whole committee meetings where the words menstruation, period, tampon and pad were never mentioned even though they were talking about a bill like this. We just needed to normalize this because we know that it’s something four to six days every month for 40 years in life, 50% of our population experiences.”
McCormick said that Hillcrest’s installation of free products is the first of 8,000 dispensers that will serve 337,000 females across the state this year and will help girls in “period poverty” situations.
“Our studies show 84% of the girls in the U.S. have missed school or known someone who has because of lack of period supplies,” she said. “The reason this has mattered the whole time is that this very day when a 12-year-old who is sitting in fifth period and starts her period, she’s going to walk to this very bathroom and be able to use free period products here. She’s not going to the office; she’s not going to call home. She’s going to go back to class and that is a win.”
Murray School District Superintendent Jen Covington said without access to period product supplies, education is impacted.
“Our students often times will stay home from school or not participate as vigorously in school without access to period products,” she said. “Not all of our students come from homes or situations where buying period products is an option, so they stay home. This impacts what we do every day with these students. We want them here in our school. We want to be able to remove barriers.”
Since 2018, the Period Project has been making products more accessible nationwide. While McCormick acknowledged others, including area Girl Scouts, in the past have worked to get products available in schools, often times, the products are just found in school offices, which can be “embarrassing” for girls.
This launch is statewide and products are available in restrooms.
“We didn’t want for every school to individually decide whether or not they wanted to do it. We wanted to work with the legislature to make sure this is a statewide mandate because it’s a need that’s been overlooked. We recognize there are kids in the state who face food insecurity, so we produce a free lunch program. In the same way, or even more so, you can’t go to school if you’re not caring for your period, so we just wanted to make sure that was understood,” McCormick said.
With $1 million donations from both the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation and The Andrus Family Foundation, dispensers are being installed in school restrooms. Initial funding from the bill will supply the tampons and pads, but ultimately the responsibility will fall upon school districts’ budgets.
Covington said others will look to Murray School District’s program as they install their own dispensers.
“They will take our feedback and share that with our messaging, how we put the dispensers up and at what heights along with feedback from students and parents to see how to roll this out throughout the state,” she said. “This really is a grassroots effort started in this school. Our social worker and head custodian have been very active in speaking about the need here and making sure girls have what they need to be able to get back to class.”
It began when a food pantry donation was being made at the school. That’s when social worker Courtney Nolan confided that what the school really needed was menstrual supplies.
“We have about 400 girls here and 50% of our student body is on free and reduced lunch,” she said. “Most stay home if they don’t have supplies. I’ve had girls come to my office to ask for a pad or tampon, but many are too embarrassed. In our society, it’s something that in the past has been unspoken.”
Head custodian Heather Wilks has been called upon to clean up from accidents, wash clothes and help students.
“A lot of our students struggle with food, so having period supplies isn’t even an option,” she said. “I’m glad to jump on it and help. This will make it so girls can be here at school and participate and be on an even playing field as the boys.”
McCormick said knowing the inequality fueled her passion for the project.
“The thing that got me was when I heard Utah was ranked 50 out of 50 for women’s equality and I starting thinking, well, what are concrete things we can do to change that number?” she said. “Viagra and Rogaine are traditionally male products with a policy saying they’re tax-free products, so we worked on the tampon tax and got it passed. Then it got overturned, but we’ll be back working on that.”