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DPS offers students free menstrual products in bathrooms

District officials said they want to provide some relief to students who feel shame or cannot afford feminine hygiene products.

DENVER — Denver Public Schools (DPS) hopes to alleviate some added stress for students after it installed menstrual product dispensers in restrooms across the district – free of charge for students.

The dispensers are in all of DPS high schools, middle schools and K-8 schools, filled with pads and tampons.

DPS started working on the initiative last year after a student, Caitlin Soch, approached officials about the need. At the time, Soch's was a senior at George Washington High School and was concerned about some students who couldn't afford feminine hygiene products.

"If parents can’t afford, or can hardly afford, to put food on the table, then feminine products are not going to be that high on the list," Soch told 9NEWS. "They are taxed as a luxury good, and they are relatively expensive compared to other basic needs."

Soch had the realization that some of her peers may be struggling after forgetting a feminine hygiene product at home, and finding one on campus was not easy. 

"We need to provide for all the basic needs for every student. Obviously, a student who menstruates is going to have different needs than a student who doesn’t," Soch said.

She took her concerns to school leaders in hopes of making a change on her campus, but teachers urged her to think bigger. 

She went straight to the district.

"Many may not think feminine hygiene products is something that would be difficult to purchase, but within our community we do have kids and families that find that difficult," Trena Marsal, the executive director of facility management at DPS said.

Marsal said body-shaming was another concern Soch brought up. School officials didn't want students to feel self-conscious going to the nurse's office for a menstrual product.

"Really wanted them to have a private location such as our bathrooms to privately secure the products to make them more comfortable," Marsal explained. "That's what we're here for to support our students. So we were happy to support."

Credit: KUSA
Denver schools install free menstrual product dispensers in bathrooms districtwide.

DPS had to pause installing the dispensers last year when the pandemic hit. Marsal said officials got back in touch with their vendor when they were allowed back in schools. 

"I found it tremendous that we were able to install the dispensers," Marsal said. "We have 795 restrooms throughout the district, we have 74 total schools, and only four remaining."

They planned to have all the dispensers installed by Monday, Feb. 1.

The first round of products cost $30,000 - $31,000, according to Marsal, including the dispensers. Marsal said her office worked with former superintendent Susana Cordova to make sure the district would have sustainable funding to continue providing tampons and pads in the future.

Denver School Board Director and activist Tay Anderson also supported the initiative.

Soch is now a freshman at Colorado College, but she is grateful that her legacy within DPS will make a difference.

"There are so many students who are going to grow up in this system where we have these products provided," Soch said. "It starts a conversation, having them out in the open instead of hidden away at the nurse’s office."

Feminine hygiene products have come up multiple times in Colorado in the past two years. A group of Democrats tried making menstrual products free to students statewide in early 2020, but the bill never made it to the House floor. School districts would have received grants to purchase the tampons and pads.

In 2019, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill that made tampons and pads free for women in jail. Those products were already free for inmates in Colorado state prisons.

Denver City Council also voted unanimously to get rid of the city's "tampon tax" in 2019. People still need to pay state taxes on feminine hygiene products.

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