Questions about female athletes’ menstrual history will no longer appear on the medical forms that Florida high school students have to fill out before participating in sports.
The Florida High School Athletic Association axed the questions on Thursday after listening to a flood of complaints contained in letters read aloud during an emergency meeting of the board.
Answering the questions was previously optional, but an association advisory committee recently recommended that it be mandatory, sparking the firestorm of criticism.
Some called the questions “humiliating” and “invasive,” and others suggested they were connected to a recent bill barring transgender girls and women from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes identified as girls at birth.
“This is another way to shame girls,” Connie DeWitt said in a letter.
Dr. Deborah White wrote that there was “zero” reason for a school to know about students’ menstrual history.
“The only reason is to weed out transgender kids who may not have periods,” White’s letter said. “As a doctor I would never fill out this form.”
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill in 2021, thrusting the state into the national cultural debate over transgender rights. DeSantis is widely believed to be considering a run for president next year on a deeply conservative platform.
The association’s spokesperson has said the proposed changes were not in response to concerns about transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, as some social media users have claimed. And association president John Gerdes stressed that politics played no part in the discussions, though the newly adopted form does ask for “sex assigned at birth.”
“This governor and his office had nothing to do with this,” Gerdes said Thursday.
Many other states ask or order female athletes to include details about their menstruation cycles with other health information.
The four-page form adopted by the board will still contain questions about mental health, alcohol and drug use and family health history, but the answers will stay in the offices of the health care practitioners who conduct the students’ medical screenings. Schools will only get the page declaring a student’s medical eligibility.
The association’s medical advisory committee, which recommended to the board that it make menstrual histories on the form mandatory, has said it was following national guidelines for sports physicals developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine and other groups.
The guidelines state that menstrual history is an “essential discussion for female athletes” because period abnormalities could be a sign of “low energy availability, pregnancy, or other gynecologic or medical conditions.”
However, the chair-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness told The Associated Press on Thursday that the earlier Florida proposal wasn’t consistent with its guidelines since the academy only recommends that a medical eligibility form be sent to the school, not personal medical information.
“And we recognize that is very problematic,” said Rebecca Carl, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University. “These were not designed to be shared with the schools.”
Two of the board members who voted against eliminating the questions altogether said there was no reason menstrual information couldn’t still be included on the forms and stored at medical practitioners’ offices.
Sports eligibility evaluations are the only opportunity some students have to meet with health care providers, and having the questions on the form can help detect any medical problems, said board member Chris Patricca.
“Student athletes are safer and better protected by the inclusion of these questions,” she said.
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The state of Florida has recently informed its schools that students will no longer be asked “humiliating” and “invasive” menstrual questions in order to participate in sports. This decision was made in response to public outcry to the fact that female student athletes were often asked seemingly irrelevant questions by school personnel before they could take part in activities.
The practice came to light in June of 2019 when a state representative, Anna Eskamani, wrote a letter to the commissioner of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) asking them to end the practice. Over the past few months, legislative and private advocacy groups have campaigned to ensure there were no longer any invasive probes into the menstrual cycles of young female athletes in order to participate in physical activity.
The FHSAA, compliant with requests, released a statement declaring that they would no longer require students to provide “information on their menstrual cycle as a requirement to participate in any interscholastic activities offered by a Florida public school.”
The FHSAA said that the invasive questions, which asked female athletes about the date their last period began, the date of their current period, and if their flow was light or heavy, were a violation of student privacy. Furthermore, the association noted that the questions did not provide any relevant medical information that would help protect the health and safety of young female athletes.
The decision is part of a larger trend as states are beginning to reevaluate the treatment of female student athletes in comparison to their male counterparts. Many advocates have said that this is a key step towards achieving gender equity in sports.
Ultimately, the decision means that young female athletes throughout Florida are now able to participate in sports without fear of being asked questions that could potentially be viewed as embarrassing or next to impossible to answer.