Ella Avital was taking an exam in her AP Macroeconomics class. She was facing 60 questions and had roughly one minute to answer each.
She needed to use the restroom. It was then she discovered her period had started, but she didn’t have any menstrual products at hand to deal with it, and the dispenser in the restroom was, as usual, empty. Disposable Paper Holder Dispenser
“Honestly, they’ve been empty for as long as I can remember,” Avital, 18, said of the dispensers. “I’ve always had to be prepared with my own supplies. There’s always been machines, but they were never full and, since the seventh grade, I thought there wasn’t anything I could have done about it so I just got used to bringing my own, or I’d depend on a friend.”
Neither of these were options at the time, Avital said. She had left her bag in the classroom, and no friends were available to bring her a pad or tampon. Walking to the nurse’s office, she added, wasn’t an option because would have taken another 10 minutes she needed for her exam. In the end, she made do with toilet paper and returned to class. She said she was so distracted she rushed through the exam.
Avital said she got a C after weeks of studying and felt if the supplies she needed were available she would have been able to come back earlier and had more time to take her exam.
Her experience that day wasn’t the first time that a lack of menstrual products had been issue for students on campus, according to Avital, who said she’s heard from other people complaining about the lack of supplies on campus since she became ASB vice president.
Her friend, Yasmin Kallel, 17, had been complaining about the lack of menstrual supplies since at least freshman year. Both Kallel and Avital have attended Corona del Mar since they were in middle school and throughout their years on campus it’s been a common experience to find empty dispensers.
“It’s affecting pretty much every girl. I think it’s been so normalized that we think it’s OK when it’s really not,” Kallel said.
For a class on research methods, Kallel wrote a paper about the lack of access to menstrual products and how it affects students. While delving into the subject she learned about AB 367, a state law that requires any public school serving grades six to 12 to stock at least 50% of all restrooms on campus with free menstrual products.
It was to be implemented by the 2022-23 school year.
At first Kallel took a wait-and-see approach, in hopes the school would come into compliance with the law. But after not seeing significant change, she and Avital decided to ask trustees at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to take action.
“[Pads and tampons] are as much a necessity as toilet paper, toilet seat covers and soap ... and I think a big argument against providing them for free is kids will take them, stock up and it’ll be abused. But I don’t think that makes sense,” Kallel said. “You could theoretically make that argument for everything in the bathroom, but you continue to stock them because they’re necessary. Tampons and pads aren’t treated as necessary.”
Kallel added that during the few times she found supplies in stock, they were old and uncomfortable products.
District spokeswoman Annette Franco confirmed the district provides free menstrual supplies and that there are dispensers in at least half of the girls’ restrooms of all the secondary schools and, in many cases, all of them.
“Our custodial staff regularly reviews and replenishes all restroom products, including feminine hygiene products, soap, toilet paper and paper towels,” Franco said.
“We are proud of our students who eloquently spoke at the board meeting about their concerns surrounding this topic, and considering that, we are checking the condition of dispensers and availability of products, so that we can continue to meet the needs of our students,” she added.
District Supt. Wesley Smith attested to that during his remarks following Kallel and Avital’s comments at the board meeting earlier this month.
“Once again, our students are articulate. They’re passionate. They do a great job and make us proud every time they come here. I said recently that we have a professional obligation and a moral one as well to make sure that every student in this district is heard, seen and valued. You have people in the room, students, whose job it is to fix these things,” said Smith. “They urge you and now they’re going to get on it so that we can demonstrate that you’re not only heard but you’re valued.”
Avital said she appreciated Smith’s comments and was glad the district was receptive to their concerns.
“I think everyone’s willing to point out the problem, but in order to get it done you have to be part of the solution,” she said, adding that she heard of a company that provides high-quality tampons and pads for businesses and schools and wanted to get into contact with them as part of that solution. “It’s my senior year, but I want to keep fighting. I’ll go to every school board meeting if I have to.”
Kallel agreed, hoping that by speaking up that they could encourage some positive change before both graduate in the June. She said that though she wouldn’t be at Corona del Mar anymore, she felt seeing the issue resolved will help ensure current and future students are comfortable on campus.
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roll paper dispenser Lilly Nguyen covers Newport Beach for the Daily Pilot. Before joining the Pilot, she worked for the Orange County Register as a freelance reporter and general assignment intern. She earned her bachelor’s in journalism at Cal State Long Beach. (714) 966-4623.