In September, New York City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland made what many see as a radical move: She launched a program to give students at one Queens high school access to free tampons and pads, the first of its kind. By many accounts, the pilot has been a huge success so far and, by the month's end, 24 other schools will join the program.
On Monday, Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland announced that, in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, her pioneering initiative will expand throughout two school districts across the city: District 9 in the Bronx and District 24 in Queens. Once installation of dispensers is complete, a total of 11,600 girls in 25 public middle and high schools will have access to free menstrual products in the girls' bathrooms by the end of March.
"Every young person should have their essential needs met in order to do well in school," Ferreras-Copeland said during Monday's press event at Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens.
Ferreras-Copeland told Broadly last month that she's launched her program to alleviate the academic consequences and potential health risks faced by students—especially those from low-income families—who have inadequate access to menstrual supplies. The two districts included in the expansion were chosen in part because they cover some of the city's most underprivileged neighborhoods, according to her office.
"If you have a challenge with paying the rent, medical bills, keeping food on the table, oftentimes young girls will find themselves using either toilet paper or the same pad for an entire day and putting their health at risk," Ferreras-Copeland said last month.
And the monetary price to provide students in need with free menstrual products isn't huge. The Department of Education estimates preliminary dispenser installation and supply costs will run about $160,000. Divided by 11,600 girls, that number breaks down to about $14 per student—less if you divide it by the whole student body.
The department will also provide informational brochures on the program, identify teachers who students can speak to, and develop a family engagement component as part of the expansion, a DOE spokesperson said.
"This pilot marks a major step in providing additional resources to students in need," DOE deputy chancellor Elizabeth Rose said Monday.
Every young person should have their essential needs met in order to do well in school.
The first pilot program is already showing an impact. Officials from District 24's High School for Arts and Business said Monday that attendance among girls increased from 90 percent to 92.4 percent since the initial pilot launched at the school in September, and fewer girls asked to be excused from class. Students at Monday's press event also said they are able to better concentrate in class and have a better quality of life. The school's principal, Ana Zambrano-Burakov, could not be reached for further comment.
In the coming weeks, Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland, along with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, will introduce legislation that would make her initiative a citywide program, serving students in need across all school districts. "The councilwoman wants all New York City public schools to have the free dispensers because when New York City leads, others follow," says Lillian Zepada, Ferreras-Copeland's spokesperson.
A day after the program expansion was announced, the New York State Assembly voted unanimously to eliminate the state's tax on feminine hygiene products. The bill is on its way to the Senate, where it's expected to pass.
The issue is also making waves across college campuses. Last week, the Tufts Community Union Senate at Tufts University established a pilot program stocking free tampons and pads in public restrooms on its Medford, Mass. Campus. The week before, Columbia University announced that its health center would provide free tampons starting after spring break. And, reports Inside Higher Ed, students at the University of Arizona, Emory University, and University of California at Los Angeles have all made demands to have free feminine hygiene products provided on their respective campuses.
"It just goes to show this is a universal concern for everybody," says Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, vice president for development of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and vocal menstrual equity advocate.
But the program expansion is only one necessary slice of the larger fight for menstrual equity. The end goal, says Weiss-Wolf, is passing the bill that would make feminine hygiene products free and accessible in public schools, shelters, jails, and other facilities across the city by next fall. "The more that can be demonstrated for the City Council," she says, "the better chance of success and public support for the legislation."