Bill for Free Menstrual Products in Massachusetts Schools Passes through Education Committee

A bill that would make free disposable menstrual products available in all elementary and secondary public schools serving students grades six to 12 in Massachusetts recently passed through the Education Committee and is awaiting a vote by the House or Senate. The bill received a favorable report from the Massachusetts Education Committee, Roy said, but has not yet been presented to the Massachusetts House or Senate, according to bill co-sponsor Representative Jeff Roy, BC Law ’86. If passed, the bill will take effect on Aug. 1, 2020, according to the official Massachusetts Government website

House Bill 4293 is sponsored by the Joint Committee on Education, which includes representatives Jeffrey Roy, Maria Duaime Robinson, Dylan Fernandes, Ruth Balser, Kevin Honan, Mindy Domb, and Susannah Whipps, as well as senators James Eldridge and Rebecca Rausch. 

The bill came to be after a Medway High School student approached Roy at a forum he had been speaking at and shared her research paper on the issue of menstrual product availability within schools. After reading her research paper and doing some research of his own, Roy determined the best way to address the issue would be to file a bill requiring all public schools in the state provide free menstrual products to their students, he said. Roy worked closely with the Medway student throughout the bill’s creation, even having her testify at the State House at a hearing on the bill. 

While Roy said similar policies in states such as New Hampshire and New York were definitely models used in crafting the bill, the true inspiration was the Medway student.

“You know, I think it’s encouraging to me that a 17-year-old young woman felt empowered enough to bring this issue to her state representative and follow it through,” Roy said. “That was a great civics lesson for her but also, you know, inspiring to see that somebody so young would get involved in public life.”

Funding for the menstrual products would be up to the local school districts to provide, and it would most likely come from the same budget that provides for toilet paper and hand towels in the schools’ bathrooms now, said Roy. Some schools, however, have been offered free products. When the bill was first proposed, the town of Medway was offered 10,000 free products from a menstrual product company, according to Roy. 

The bill aims to end the stigmatization surrounding menstrual products and their use. By putting the products in the restrooms themselves, Roy said he hopes to save students needing a menstrual product from having to involve a second party—such as a school nurse or teacher—in what he describes is a “private matter.”

 “[The products] would be stacked right in the restrooms right next to the toilet paper so that it would be a private moment,” Roy said. “Having to ask a teacher to go to the nurse’s office or ask a nurse, you know, is embarrassing and creates stigma, and we want to remove that.”

Roy explained the bill will work to make menstrual products as accessible as other paper products provided in schools already, such as toilet paper and paper towels.  

“We didn’t want young women who were experiencing their period to face any different consequence than any person who was going to use the restroom to go to the bathroom,” said Roy. “It’s a fact of life … and we want to make sure that folks feel comfortable. That’s what the whole bill is about.”

While there has been little public response to the bill as of now, Roy said that the feedback he has received has been largely favorable. He additionally said he expects many of the House and Senate members to respond favorably to the bill when presented, as many of his colleagues have expressed their support for the bill and its importance.  

“The other thing is, you know, it’s a role that the government can play in making sure that there’s an equitable distribution of resources out there so that everybody feels comfortable and can go about their activities of daily life without interruption or without any stigma,” Roy said. “And, you know, I’ve seen other states have done this, and I’m hoping that Massachusetts becomes the next one to do it.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Arnold Reinhold/Wikimedia Commons