Menstrual products now available for free in Cherry Creek school bathrooms

Machines distributing free menstrual pads have been installed in bathrooms throughout schools in the Cherry Creek School District.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Starting this fall, period products are now available at no cost in female and gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the Cherry Creek School District, a move the district said is intended to cut down on stigma around menstruation and decrease the number of student absences.

“We all know there is nothing worse than being caught unaware when you don’t feel well or you’ve started menstruating, it just changes your whole day,” said Michelle Weinraub, the district’s chief health officer.

Meena Sheehan, a student wellness specialist in the district’s office of student health, said former superintendent Scott Siegfried instructed the department to start looking into the possibility of putting menstrual products in bathrooms, and the work continued after he left. When doing research, Sheehan said the department was motivated by studies showing that students who can’t afford period products are more likely to skip school.

“It became clear that this is a really important thing to have in our schools so that our students feel safe and provided and cared for,” she said.

One in five teens in the U.S. struggled to afford period products, and more than four out of five students had either missed class time or knew someone who missed class time because they didn’t have period products, according to a study from the Alliance for Period Supplies.

With some state-level exceptions, period products are not covered by food stamps or WIC, which can make it hard for families living in poverty to afford them. Earlier this year Colorado passed a bill exempting feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax.

Cherry Creek started putting menstrual supplies in school this school year and completed installation over fall break. The district was able to receive a grant from the Colorado Department of Education to fund its implementation, and also received funding from its Title IV schools and Medicaid offices, Sheehan said.

Products are available in every school across the district, including alternative sites like the Joliet Center, in girl’s bathrooms as well as single-stall gender neutral bathrooms on campuses. Products are available at the elementary, middle and high school level but vary based on age.

Dispensers containing menstrual pads are available in all schools, and tampons are also available in the school health clinics at every high school. Only pads are available at elementary and middle schools.

Weinraub said that when implementing the project the district made sure that each school was given the same resources and that they were being sensitive to what was appropriate for the developmental level of each age group. Though some girls at the younger levels have already started menstruating, they may not know how to use tampons, and some families may be uncomfortable with their students using them at a young age.

“We’re not just throwing tampons at young girls and hoping they know what to do with them,” Weinraub said. “We’re always looking at those families for the education piece like we do with any part of their health.”

The menstrual pads in dispensers are from Aunt Flow, a woman-owned period product company that sells dispensers to schools and other organizations. Aunt Flow’s menstrual pads are made of organic cotton and have minimal packaging, which is more eco-friendly and cuts down on trash, Sheehan said.

Aunt Flow’s dispensers also stock 100 pads at a time, Sheehan said, which is more than many other dispensers carry. This was a plus for the districts because it means dispensers are much less likely to run out in the middle of the day.

Aunt Flow first came to the district as part of a project from students at Liberty Middle School’s Girl Scout troop, which raised money to put dispensers in all the school’s bathrooms. Lauren Campbell and Annaliese Austin, who are now juniors at Grandview High School, earned the Girl Scout Silver Award for the project.

The Colorado Department of Education grant is for three to five years, but Weinraub said the district intends to continue to offer menstrual supplies in perpetuity. 

In 2021, the Colorado state legislature passed a law creating a grant program to provide menstrual products to qualifying schools. Cherry Creek did not qualify for that program, which was aimed at low-income schools, but Weinraub said she thought it was a positive step. Ultimately, she said she would love to see the state create a funded mandate for all schools to offer menstrual supplies.

“That would be the right thing to do for kids, for sure,” she said.

Along with Colorado, the Alliance for Period Supplies said on its website that 20 states and Washington, D.C. have some sort of requirement for period supplies to be in schools, but not all requirements are universal or come with funding from the state government.

Sheehan said she hopes Cherry Creek’s program eliminates a source of unnecessary stress for students and helps to destigmatize menstruation, which too often can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment for teen girls wrestling with the changes that puberty brings.

“It’s a normal bodily function for approximately half of the population,” she said. “We need to normalize that.”

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25 days ago

Oh my god. The two words that make conservatives sweat: Menstrual and Free

J Walter
J Walter
24 days ago

Doug, you should have written that as Haiku!
This program is SO MANY DECADES TOO LATE, and we have beautiful Girl Scouts to thank for it! I went through school before Title IX, which shows just how disrespected girls have been in “modern history.” “A journey of a thousand miles…” Can’t we get these steps closer together?

gk puester
gk puester
24 days ago

Bravo, CCSD.

J Walter
J Walter
23 days ago

I wrote one and you didn’t publish it