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Okanagan schools move forward with providing free menstrual products in washrooms

Free menstrual products now available in B.C. public schools
WATCH (April 2019): A government initiative to provide free menstrual products in B.C. public schools has launched in time for the start of the school year.

Okanagan school districts are installing menstrual product dispensing machines in school washrooms so students have access to free pads and tampons to combat “period poverty.”

The move comes after the B.C. government issued a ministerial order in April requiring all public schools in the province to offer free menstrual products in female and universal washrooms.

Free menstrual products for women in B.C.
Free menstrual products for women in B.C.

One in seven students miss school due to their periods because they cannot afford menstrual products, according to the province.

“Lack of access to menstrual products can negatively impact students’ school attendance and their social-emotional well being,” said a directive from the province to B.C. school boards.

READ MORE: B.C. government will require public schools to provide free menstrual products in washrooms by end of 2019

The Okanagan-Similkameen school board passed a staff proposal at its Oct. 23 regular council meeting to install one menstrual product dispenser in a female washroom at the intermediate level at each of SD 53’s elementary schools, three dispensers at each secondary school, and one machine at each of the two YouLearn locations in Oliver and Keremeos.

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Currently, pads and tampons are available in sick rooms, counselling rooms or in the school office, which means students need to speak with a counsellor or teacher to access them.

The approximate cost through Grand & Toy of 16 dispensing machines is $4,112 and the total cost at installation is $6,112.

Stephanie Higginson, the president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, told Global News on Sunday that while she supports the initiative, some school boards will be forced to absorb the unexpected costs, and she hopes it doesn’t result in having to alter services to students.

“We hope that going forward, there will be an increase in funding to our operational budget to include this cost,” she said. “It has to be implemented by Dec. 31 this year and we look forward to there being money in next year’s budget to ensure the increased operations are covered.”

It was an unbudgeted expense for the school board so it will have to withdraw funds from the restricted surplus set aside for unforeseen maintenance costs, according to the staff report.

Free menstrual products coming to B.C. school washrooms
Free menstrual products coming to B.C. school washrooms

The provincial government said it will provide $300,000 to help school districts comply by the end of the year. The ministry said it will look at the needs of each school district and ensure they have the funding needed to meet this new requirement.

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“This is a common-sense step forward that is, frankly, long overdue. We look forward to working with school districts and communities to make sure students get the access they need with no stigma and no barriers,” Education Minister Rob Fleming said.

READ MORE: Free pads and tampons coming to New Westminster schools

In February, New Westminster school trustees voted unanimously to install coin-free menstrual product dispensers in all of its schools by September, making them the first in the province to do so.

“Addressing period poverty closes the gap on gender inequality,” said Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity Mitzi Dean.

“Having a period is a part of life for more than half of all British Columbians. It’s important for all students to have the opportunity to participate fully in school activities, and that means having free and open access to menstrual products.”

–With files from Richard Zussman