Denver Public Schools stocks campuses with free tampons and pads for students

Students in nearly 80 Denver schools now have access to free menstrual products, including tampons and pads.

Denver Public Schools expected to have product dispensers installed in about 800 bathrooms — girls’, women’s and gender neutral bathrooms at all middle and high schools, as well as those that serve K-8 students — by Feb. 1, district spokesperson Winna MacLaren said.

Colorado’s largest district was inspired to provide tampons and pads on campus by former student Caitlin Soch, who advocated that they should be available for free. The initiative was originally slated as a pilot project at George Washington High School, where Soch graduated from in the spring.

The district began installing dispensers at the beginning of 2020, but the effort was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, MacLaren said.

Soch said the initiative was of personal interest given she is a woman with a period, but more importantly, she said, it was about educational equity for girls, women, transgender and nonbinary students.

“This was not just a matter of convenience or comfort, but also a matter of public health,” she said. “When [students] are at school, the only thing they should be thinking about is their education. No one should spend 20 minutes roaming the hallway looking for a feminine product.”

According to a 2019 survey of about 200 low-income women, 64% were unable to purchase period products within the previous year. About a fifth of those women said it was an issue to buy them on a monthly basis. That’s why advocates have been pushing to expand access to feminine hygiene products across Colorado.

In March 2019, the Denver City Council voted unanimously to discontinue a 4.31% sales tax on tampons, sanitary napkins, pantiliners, menstrual sponges and menstrual cups. Last legislative session, Rep. Brianna Titone introduced a bill that would have helped public schools offer supplies to students for free through grant funding, but it did not pass.

Stocking DPS schools with tampons and pads cost about $30,000 to start, including the dispensers, MacLaren said. The district plans to supply feminine products for the foreseeable future, she added.

Titone praised DPS on social media for setting an example for the rest of the state.

“This is a major step in helping students!” she tweeted. “This is a simple gesture that can make a big difference in student’s lives.”

Soch, now a student at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, was excited not only about the district rollout, but also the feedback she saw from students and parents on social media.

“It’s this little glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel,” Soch said. “They say, ‘This is possible at the largest school district in Colorado and it might be possible in ours.’”

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