Metro-East News

Illinois schools must now provide free feminine hygiene products in bathrooms

Starting next year, Illinois school districts and charter schools will be required to provide feminine hygiene products in bathrooms to female students, for free.

The new state law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, requires that products such as tampons and sanitary napkins be provided at no cost in bathrooms of schools with grades 6 through 12.

In the legislation, lawmakers wrote that access to feminine hygiene products is a serious need for Illinois students.

“When students do not have access to affordable feminine hygiene products, they may miss multiple days of school every month,” the law says.

Belleville School District 118 has provided free feminine hygiene products in its eight K-6 grade schools and its two junior high schools for more than 20 years. Students who need the products just have to go to the office and request one, said Superintendent Matt Klosterman.

“We make all students aware if they’re in need of any product, come to the office, and our staff provides it,” Klosterman said.

The district now spends about $50 a year on feminine hygiene products. There will now be an added expense of putting in dispensers in the bathrooms.

“I would expect if we make them available in bathrooms, the cost will likely go up. Because of greater access, there will be some waste involved,” Klosterman said.

He added it’s probably a miniscule amount in the grand scheme of things.

Klosterman said the district wants female students to be comfortable and have the necessary privacy they need, while effectively managing availability of feminine hygiene products.

The new wrinkle of providing products in bathrooms could become an issue in the K-6 buildings. There could be an instance where a 5-year-old kindergartener would have access to them without supervision, which brings about safety concerns, Klosterman said.

“Those are the issues for us we’ll have to think through,” Klosterman said.

Freeburg District 70 and O’Fallon District 90 are among other districts that already have feminine hygiene products available for students. But those districts also require students to go to the nurse’s office to ask for the products.

Carrie Hruby, the superintendent for District 90, said some students may not feel comfortable asking a staff member for a hygiene product.

“This law makes it more convenient for girls,” Hruby said.

Her district’s nurses have begun planning whether to get dispensers that wouldn’t require money or to have a basket in restrooms with notes that say additional products are in the nurse’s office if the supply is depleted.

Hruby said some districts already provide a variety of hygiene products, such as deodorant, for their students.

“There are times a child might need something, and you don’t want to disrupt their learning for the child to call home to get what they need,” Hruby said.

At Belleville Township High School District 201, products are provided to students in the nurse’s office. Students are charged 25 cents for each, but if they don’t have a quarter, a staff member is allowed to provide them for free, said Superintendent Jeff Dosier.

“If there’s a supply in the (bathroom), someone would take a lot of them, and that would be a problem,” Dosier said. “We trust that they will be responsible and not take more than they need.”

Dosier said female staff members have handled the issue and are able to handle the issue in a discreet manner.

“Schools had a system in place to take care of the issue, and in my opinion, it did not need to be legislated,” Dosier said.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, voted against the bill, which was passed by the General Assembly in the spring and signed into law in August by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“Yes, some complain that schools are not given enough of our tax money and then pile on more costly mandates, increasing the price,” McCarter wrote in a Facebook post. “Where does this end? Bankruptcy? Who first? Government or the fleeced taxpayers?”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

How they voted:

  • Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville: Yes
  • Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton: Did not vote
  • Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon: No
  • Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo: Yes
  • Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithon: No
  • Rep. John Cavaletto, R- Salem: No
  • Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis: Yes
  • Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea: Yes
  • Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: No
  • Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville: Yes
  • Rep. Dan Beiser: D-Alton: Yes