MCPS pilot program brings menstrual product dispensers

Charlyn Chu, Assistant Social Justice Editor

Student Member of the Board (SMOB) and RM senior Hana O’Looney strongly advocates for providing menstrual product in all schools. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery Country Media)

Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual products or hygiene facilities. Stigma around menstruation and periods causes many to feel embarrassment or shame when asking for period products. Numerous students have had to use toilet paper, towels, and other items as a substitute.

“I’ve spoken with a number of students, often low income, often students of color, who because they don’t have access to menstrual products or because they can’t afford them, their only option was to miss entire days of school,” Student Member of the Board (SMOB) Hana O’Looney said. “I think that is a real issue of education equity when half of the human population can’t access the classroom in the same way that others can because of a biological and financial barrier standing in the way.”

While RM and many other schools offer menstrual products in the nurses’ office or the health room, students have raised concerns that it is not enough and further stigmatizes menstruation. Offices are not always open and are neither timely or convenient to those who need urgent access to a pad or tampon. Many students say that the solution is having dispensers directly in the school bathrooms.

As part of a MCPS pilot program that will test out different dispenser models and menstrual products, menstrual hygiene product dispensers will be placed in White Oak Middle School and Montgomery Village Middle School starting in January 2022. These installations will be the first of many.

Plans for installation have been introduced since 2020, but recent discussion on period products in school at the MCPS Board of Education’s (BOE) last meeting moved things forward. Additionally, Maryland mandated in May that all secondary schools must provide free and easily accessible menstrual products to students by 2025. 

This mandate was a result of strong student advocacy over the course of three years; lobbying trips to Annapolis and emails to senators about menstrual equity helped convince lawmakers to focus on this topic. After pushes from both the local and state level for a bill that would require counties to provide free menstrual product dispensers in school bathrooms, the Maryland HB205 bill was finally passed in the 2021 legislative session. 

State law requires that public middle and high schools must have dispensers installed in at least two women’s restrooms by Oct. 1, 2022, and all women’s restrooms by Aug. 1, 2025. Although the state bill only requires dispensers in female-designated bathrooms, MCPS is committed to its goal of adding them to all Montgomery County bathrooms; that includes male, female, and non-binary bathrooms.

“I felt very strongly that in order to be accepting and send a message that we are inclusive of our LGBTQ+ students and broader community, I was very very adamant on making sure that the products in MCPS are in all bathrooms,” O’Looney said.