D.C. schools ranked first in statewide menstrual health rankings, officials said


For Liv Birnstad, what she learned about reproductive health in school was about preventing sexually transmitted diseases. She learned about sex and how babies are made, but she had little information on periods—how to prepare for them or why they are made.

“It’s prohibitive for some people,” said Birnstad, superintendent of Capital City Public Charter School in Northwest Washington. “People may not have parents who are willing to teach them about these things.”

But next school year will change. Starting in fourth grade, every student in the district’s traditional public and charter schools must take a lesson on menstrual health — regardless of gender — making D.C. the first jurisdiction in the country with unique global standards, he said.

Students will cover topics such as how the menstrual cycle works, where to find sanitary products, and stigmas often associated with menstruation. The standards come as education leaders across the city prepare to adopt new social studies standards designed to increase representation of marginalized groups and directly examine racism and white supremacy. The reform reflects a broader effort to modernize education in city schools, officials said.

“From menstrual grades to social studies — next, you’ll hear we’re going through grades in financial literacy. Along the way, we’re working on local reading standards,” said DC State Superintendent of Education Christina Grant. “It is the role of the State Education Agency to constantly reflect, revisit and then adjust standards to reflect the dynamics of education, to reflect what students need to learn in an age-appropriate way and to ensure that we adapt and shape the subjects. Let’s go to our community to serve our children.

Menstrual health standards are in effect for at least one year after the DC Council passes them. Law It requires the city’s school board and superintendent of education to develop guidelines that ensure students have the information, support and school environment to manage menstruation respectfully, safely and comfortably. The law mandates that schools place free pads and tampons in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms. If a school does not have a gender-neutral bathroom, Permon products must be available in at least one men’s restroom on campus.

Here’s how DC is changing what’s offered in social studies

But with few precedents nationwide, city education officials drew up the standards from a “blank canvas.” The leaders solicited input from experts, including teachers, community organizations and child health care providers.

of Curriculum It includes more than two dozen levels broken down by class levels. In high school, students gain an understanding of the menstrual cycle, the physical and emotional changes that can accompany menstruation, and how to maintain personal hygiene. By the eighth grade, young people should know the causes of menstrual cycle irregularities, how to compare different types of menstrual products, and identify safe and reliable ways to monitor menstruation with other levels.

In high school, students explore topics including how contraceptive use affects the menstrual cycle and discussing menstrual health with a doctor. They also criticize the way their society supports or does not support menstruation.

“These are important things that all students need to know, regardless of their age or gender, to pass the standards,” said Bernstad, a member of the D.C. Board of Education. . “We know that there are people who have their periods at different ages, so it’s important to talk about this with younger students.”

The standards are designed to bring some consistency to an education sector that has little consistency across the country. What a child knows about periods varies by state, district and individual schools, says Melissa Holmes, co-founder of the Girlology and Period Education Project.

A few states require students to learn about menstrual products or how to manage their period; According to the analysis Educational standards conducted by researchers in 2020. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Florida have passed legislation that limits discussions about sex education in schools and bans discussions of gender identity before high school. The law will be effective from July 1.

A Florida bill prohibits teenage girls from discussing periods in school

“Usually that’s all [students] Learn how to use a pad or tampon as far as menstrual health goes,” Holmes said. Lessons focus on basic hygiene and menstruation in the context of pregnancy. Comprehensive menstrual health education is also rare.

“Menstrual health is a very broad topic that covers what’s normal, what’s not normal, when to seek medical help. It’s humiliating. It’s for all genders,” Holmes said. It prevents some of the issues she has seen in more than two decades of caring for women.

“That’s why it takes an average of seven to 10 years for endometriosis to be diagnosed. “Because we write period pain,” Holmes said of the condition in which the uterus grows outside and causes severe pain. It makes an impact. About 10 percent Globally reproductive-age women and girls and can lead to infertility. “When we teach all genders, we’re reducing that stigma. We’re making the process a necessary, part of the human experience.”

While the standards have been widely praised in D.C., their implementation could pose challenges, said Amita Vyas, a professor at George Washington University and director of the school’s Center of Excellence for Maternal and Child Health.

First, there are few studies on the effectiveness of menstrual health programs in schools, Vass said. Authorities need to ensure that teachers feel qualified to teach these standards and that the content is enjoyable for all students, regardless of gender — including male, non-binary and trans students. The city has organized at least one day of training for teachers.

“It’s a diverse group of teenagers for us to be able to participate in,” Weiss said. “I think these qualifications and these new guidelines are great, but I think the real challenge will be in the implementation.”


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