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How Angry Parents Forced Florida to Back Down From Forcing Student Athletes to Reveal Menstrual History

6 minute read

Florida student athletes narrowly avoided a policy change that would’ve made it mandatory to answer questions about their menstrual histories after a major push from parents and students alike who were outraged at the idea.

The Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) Board of Directors—which oversees sporting regulation for more than 800,000 students—had an emergency meeting in Gainesville on Thursday, and after receiving more than 150 letters from the public, which overwhelmingly opposed mandatory menstruation disclosure, the board voted to stop asking athletes the menstrual questions altogether.

In the letters, some of which were read aloud at the meeting, people shared personal anecdotes about the privacy of menstrual history, while some alleged transphobic motives and reproductive health oppression were behind the proposal.

In January, FHSAA released a draft update to the current physical evaluation form—which all athletes are required to fill out. The draft proposed making it mandatory for all athletes to answer if they’ve had a menstrual period, and if so, how old they were when they first had it, when their most recent period was and how many periods they had in the past year.

In early February, the association’s executive director released a counter proposal that won Thursday’s vote: removing all personal health questions and only requiring that a medical professional verifies that an athlete has a clean bill of health. The new form will be used during the 2023-24 school year.

Prior to the decision, some parents were outraged at the idea that their children may be forced to share the history and called it “an overreach.”

“We don’t need intervention from an athletic department. A conversation about a young girl’s menstruation needs to remain among that girl, her parents and a physician. These boundaries are important and they need to be protected,” Jenn Poggie, a Floridian mother of three girls, told TIME prior to the decision.

Poggie and her 16-year-old daughter, Ivy Carlson, who plays varsity soccer at her high school in Tallahassee, were furious when they first heard about the original draft. “It’s just such an invasion of privacy,” Poggie said.

Earlier this week, Poggie made it her mission to educate other Florida parents about what was going on with FHSAA’s proposal and launched a campaign called, “Privacy. Period!” Her petition demanded that FHSAA reject the recommendation that athletes answer mandatory menstrual health questions and garnered more than 230 signatures in one day.

“My health relating to my fertility had no effect on my ability to run,” one commenter wrote on Poggie’s petition. “This is an archaic request that is an invasion of privacy and in misalignment with PHI (Protected Health Information) compliance,” another said.

Nearly 900 people also sent FHSAA letters asking them to oppose the move, according to The Palm Beach Post.

On Tuesday, FHSAA organized the emergency meeting after 30 Democratic Florida legislators sent the association a letter requesting that they rescind the draft proposal that included mandatory menstruation questions.

“Sometimes as adults, you can forget how sensitive that is for a young girl. I mean, some of these girls have just begun menstruation, or it’s new to them, and it’s very personal,” Poggie said. “They don’t even talk to their friends about it, or some are even hesitant to talk to their own parents.”

Carlson said she is incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of sharing her period history with her school, adding that no one other than a doctor should have access to that kind of private information.

“They could ask female students about what they think and if they’re comfortable or not comfortable, and just get their side of things,” Carlson told TIME. “It shouldn’t just be adults saying do this, do that.”

FHSAA board members considered the debate over a lengthy two-hour meeting, deciding that although menstrual questions have been on the form for decades, it’s time to change that. “We are not doctors,” board member John Gerdes said. “For me, the balance does tip over to the privacy issue.”

“We’ve clearly heard from our stakeholders,” board member Brenda Longshore said before promptly voting to strike the menstruation questions.

Florida students have already been at the center of political tug-of-war, with with the state’s massive school staffing shortage, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, efforts to remove books from course curricula and school libraries. All of that put Florida in the middle of America’s polarizing culture war over education politics and how much say parents should have in their children’s education.

“I think students are rightfully fearful,” Maxx Fenning, president of PRISM, an organization dedicated to LGBT-inclusive education and sexual health resources for South Florida youth, told TIME ahead of Thursday’s decision. Fenning said that policies like making sharing menstrual information mandatory obstruct “their privacy, their ability to control what information is and isn’t distributed and to who.”

Amid a legal battle currently underway over a 2021 Florida law that bars transgender female students from playing on women and girls’ sports teams, Fenning specified that transgender women and girls are particularly vulnerable under such policies.

“It’s rooted in an effort to place further pressure on transgender students,” Fenning said. “[They] just want to play sports with their friends.”

“Living in a post-Roe world, where young people—especially people with uteruses—are increasingly fearful of giving out information about their menstrual history,” Fenning added, “these things can become potentially dangerous.”

Campaigners like Poggie are satisfied with their success at halting a policy that Poggie says would’ve been “appalling,” but just like elsewhere in the country, debates around school curriculum and parents’ and students’ rights don’t seem to be ending anytime soon.“

It’s clear when placed in a context with what we’ve seen in the state of Florida, the ways in which these institutions have been weaponized,” Fenning says. He said he anticipates there are already more restrictions in the making.

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