MORRISBURG, Ontario – The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has passed two motions in support of feminine hygiene products.
During the March 24 board meeting, student trustees Tain Hughes and Jordan Evans, through trustee Corina Parisien, put forth a motion for UCDSB trustees to refer the issue of accessibility of menstrual hygiene products in UCDSB schools to the policy committee for consideration and report back to the board by the April 28 meeting. Hughes and Evans said the issue had been raised by students in several UCDSB schools.
“This motion is not just a policy set in place, but rather a step toward further progressiveness,” Hughes said. “I speak not only as a student trustee or the student voice, but as a woman. This is National Women’s History Month and it’s also a milestone in women’s rights in Canada. On March 7, the Toronto Youth Advisory Committee announced a petition to make feminine hygiene products free in all public schools across Ontario. School boards across the province are passing similar policies to ours and, if not, most likely already have. Across Canada, more and more government funded organizations are supporting the fight for free feminine hygiene products. This is not just a motion or a policy. This is a human rights issue and a necessity. I’m proud to be representing the school board that will hopefully be supporting the solution. And I hope that as female rights take a frontline issue, we continue to grow and evolve to support it.”
Through additional discussion, it was determined that feminine hygiene products are already available for free in most UCDSB schools. The current issue is a lack of consistency, as well as a lack of awareness. Most students do not know the program exists and for those who do, each school stores products in different locations. For those who do know, having to go to the office and ask for the product may be an additional barrier.
The original motion was carried with support from Parisien, as well as trustees Donald Cram, Larry Berry, John Donaher, Ryan Jacobs, William Macpherson, John McAllister, John McCrea,
Jamie Schoular, and Lisa Swann. The sole opposition came from trustee David McDonald.
McDonald opposed the original motion on the grounds that it was unnecessary. He said it is awareness and action that are needed. Students need to be made aware of the program and all schools need to make sure the products are accessible and visible to those who need it now.
“I do think we need a policy. Its obviously not happening consistently in our schools and we need it to happen. It’s so important to all women to be able to access them without embarrassment,” Swann said, noting that she knew of one student who stayed home for a week because she did not have access to feminine hygiene products when she needed them.
While McDonald agreed with the need for the program, he disagreed with the need for a policy and a one-month wait to hear back from a committee. Instead, he put forth a motion that dispensing machines for menstrual hygiene products be installed in all female washrooms and gender-neutral washrooms in UCDSB schools. The motion was carried despite the opposition of trustees Berry, MacPherson, and McCrea and despite trustee Danaher not voting. Those who voted in favour were trustees McDonald, Parisien, Swann, Cram, Jacobs, McAllister, and Schoular.
McCrea and MacPherson disagreed with McDonald’s motion. They said school staff should have the choice of how to implement the program. McCrae said the board would be exceeding its authority by doing more than simply approving a policy. MacPherson said he felt the two motions were contradictory and wondered how schools would know which bathrooms should have the dispensers installed.
Although Swann supported the second motion, she wondered if the board should consider charging a small fee. She said her concern would be someone misusing the service and taking advantage of the program.
“Contraceptives in our schools are not a cost,” Evans said. “The benefit of having them out is better than the potential of having some students misuse the products.”
With both motions carried, the UCDSB is set to get a policy mandating the free supply of feminine hygiene products in all schools now and into the future, as well as immediate installation of dispensers in female washrooms in all UCDSB schools.
This story was originally written for and appeared in the Chesterville Record.