(Updated: adding video, comments from students)
Students champion statewide in-school access to menstrual products
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Periods and menstruation are topics that historically have been taboo to talk about. Some students at Bend Senior High School challenged that stigma, and as a result are improving the lives of their fellow students across the state.
Students in the Design Justice class at Bend Senior High are celebrating a tangible victory for a long-championed project, as free menstrual products are now in place at schools throughout Bend-La Pine Schools and are also being installed in schools across the state under new legislation.
For more than two years, the students advocated for the project, testifying before state lawmakers on behalf of the Menstrual Dignity Act and, after the law’s passage, helping design and edit a toolkit to implement the new guidelines.
Bend Senior High junior Olive Nye took the class and has worked to make free menstrual products a reality.
"Personally, as a woman and a menstruator, I was super excited to see what we could accomplish," Nye told NewsChannel 21 on Friday.
Last spring, students in the Design Justice class testified before lawmakers about the bill, which requires free period products be accessible inside school bathrooms, and also spoke in front of the Bend-La Pine School Board.
"It wasn’t really talked about, it wasn’t really brought up, and I think we were just kind of complying and figuring out what we had to do to work around the issue," Nye said.
Sasha Grenier with the Oregon Department of Education said the toolkit designers reached out to the Bend Senior High students after their testimony during the House Committee on Education in March.
“It was integral to the project to have student voice in the Toolkit, so that implementing Districts and schools would know how best to provide menstrual products and education in a way that centers student privacy, dignity, and access,” Grenier said.
Teams from Bend-La Pine Schools’ maintenance and custodial crews worked to install dispensers filled with product at high schools and middle schools in August and in the fifth-grade wings in elementary schools by Dec. 1.
Nye says not having accessible menstrual products takes away from class time, can be hard to talk about, and is expensive.
"I just think it's more convenient for every student and has been kind of life-saving for some of our kids here," Nye added.
Students in the class also helped review the type of product to stock, getting support for Bend-La Pine Schools to use 100% biodegradable, all-paper products that are sustainable.
"iI came in, and I saw the products, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, they're here!'" Nye recalled. "I had always been sending emails about and writing about, and then suddenly the actual dispenser was in front of me."
"It's even saved me a couple of times this year."
Other students feel the same.
Bend Senior High sophomore Isobel McDonald has been part of the effort by students and says it’s gratifying to see the dispensers in place.
“It's exciting to work on projects where we get to see real-time results," she said. "The menstrual product dispensers, which provide free tampons and pads, are creating equity and providing a product that all students can access easily, which hasn't always been the case. The process of working to bring dispensers to the district and to also work on the state law has been really rewarding.”
Sophomore Neve Gerard said, "It's really cool we were able to get this opportunity, and it makes it easier, especially for lower-income students."
Teacher Matt Fox says this kind of real-world action provides students with opportunities to gain leadership skills.
“Watching our students take on this issue and follow it from idea to implementation has been incredible," Fox said. "I’m proud of the class and watched them develop into leaders who care about making positive change in the world.”
The units at middle and high schools are up and running with products, and those at elementary schools should be filled with products soon, if not yet already in place. Next on the list is for maintenance to install dispensers in all women’s bathrooms and family/gender-neutral bathrooms.
Those wanting to learn more about the project can check out the Oregon toolkit, which helps spell out the law and inform schools on how to roll it out.