Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly are pushing a measure that would require schools to provide free menstruation products in both girls’ and boys’ bathrooms for grades 4 through 12.
Advocates of the proposal argue it would allow for transgender students who also menstruate to be able to access needed resources.
State Rep. Barbara Hernandez (D-Aurora), the chief sponsor of HB 156 , said her proposal would build upon existing law passed in 2017 that required all Illinois schools to provide free tampons and sanitary napkins in girls’ restrooms for grades 6 through 12.
In addition to extending the requirement to fourth and fifth grade and also mandating schools supply sanitary wipes, Hernandez said her proposal would stipulate that these products be placed in bathrooms — and not an alternative location in the school, like the nurse’s office — to offer students discretion.
“This is mainly focusing to resolve the issue of menstruators not being able to use the products accessible to them instead of going to the nurse's office,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said in addition to being a resource for students in an emergency, supplying menstruation products in school free of charge helps to address a resource gap for low-income students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford period supplies.
However, some state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle believe the measure will mean forcing schools to purchase and provide an inflated number of products for students who wouldn’t need or use them.
State Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Morrisonville) said it’s better to allow schools autonomy to make accommodations for transgender students on a case-by-case basis — instead of what she characterized as a costly blanket mandate.
“I think that the current law gives schools the opportunity to have this flexibility and to make accommodations,” Bourne said. “Under this bill, all of that flexibility and those accommodations are gone and it doesn't matter what the situation is.”
Bourne also said if schools are mandated to place these materials in all boys’ restrooms, it opens up the door for immature students to mess with costly resources and not use them for their intended purpose.
“I've heard stories from schools actually in Christian County about them being misused,” Bourne said. “When you give a grade school boy something that's adhesive, they're going to put it places. It's absolutely already led to a behavior issue. These products are not inexpensive and they're going to be misused if they are placed in elementary school boys’ bathrooms.”
Mandating products be placed in boys’ restrooms for trans boys who menstruate may also be a sticking point for the legislation. When the proposal was debated in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee last week, Chairwoman Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) asked Hernandez multiple times to clarify that the bill was intended for female students.
“I don't know that your intent was actually to get into this whole gender thing. I think it was more about providing the products,” Scherer said. “I feel like we still need a little bit of clarification that it is for girls’ bathrooms and I don't want to make one bill into a bill that it is not.”
Hernandez repeatedly reiterated the intent of her proposal was to address a need for all students who menstruate.
The proposal was successfully voted out of the House committee along party lines and could be heard on the House floor later this spring.