A proposed draft of a physical education form in Florida could require all high school student athletes to disclose information regarding their menstrual history — a move that’s already drawing pushback from opponents who say the measure would harm students.
The draft — published last month by the Florida High School Athletic Association, a group that oversees interscholastic athletic programs across the state — proposes making currently optional questions regarding a student’s menstrual cycle mandatory, as reported by the Palm Beach Post.
The form, if approved, would ask students if they’ve had a menstrual cycle, and if so, at what age they had their first menstrual period, their most recent menstrual period and “how many periods [the student has] had in the past 12 months.”
The questions have appeared in the state’s athletics participation form for more than two decades, but have been optional.
“This is clearly an effort to further stigmatize and demonize transgender people in sports [and] meant to further exclude people who aren’t assigned female at birth in girls sports,” said Maxx Fenning, president of PRISM, a South Florida nonprofit organization that provides sexual health information to LGBTQ+ youth. “Beyond that, I think there’s concern among LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ [students] alike. This is an extremely invasive mode of gleaning into someone’s reproductive history, which is especially dangerous in this post-Roe world we live in.”
Issues related to school districts and the LGBTQ+ community have become more contentious over the past year. Last March, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed by critics as Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill, which prohibits instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and potentially restricting such instruction for older kids. A few months later, the Miami-Dade School Board voted overwhelming against recognizing October as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer History month, even though the Board had voted 7-1 to recognize that designation the previous school year.
The Florida High School Athletic Association board is set to discuss the potential mandate Feb. 26-27 in Gainesville.
Potential changes statewide
The recommendation comes months after a Palm Beach Post investigation showed some school districts store the student information online.
Following the Post’s report, the association’s sports medicine committee faced pressure to recommend updates to Florida’s athlete registration form. Earlier this month, the committee recommended that all pages of the form, including a student’s menstruation history, be turned over to their schools. The national form used by more than a dozen other states requires that information not be turned over to the schools.
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While some committee members agree the information should be shared with schools, others argued coaches, who aren’t health care providers, shouldn’t have access to someone’s medical records, according to reporting by the Palm Beach Post.
Pediatricians raise issues
Thresia Gambon, a Miami-Dade pediatrician and president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, agrees with the latter sentiment, arguing menstrual history can help doctors evaluate a student athlete’s health, but that information, along with other medical questions on the form, should be kept confidential between the student and the provider.
Moreover, she said, while the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that all of the information listed on the form should be collected, it should only be reviewed by doctors to determine whether a student is fit to play. It should not be kept by the schools due to student privacy concerns.
“What I would love is for us to all come to an agreement on what’s the best care and the safest care for the kids,” said Gambon. “But also allow them to participate in sports because we want them to exercise and get all the other benefits of being on a team and exercising regularly and being with their friends and competing.”
Gambon said the chapter has reached out to the Florida High School Athletic Association and other medical groups and associations in the state asking to meet and discuss the forms.
The federal HIPAA Privacy Rule, enacted in 2003 to protect individuals’ medical records, stipulates how an individual’s health record can be used and released. If a patient’s privacy rights are violated, civil and criminal penalties can be imposed.
A parent’s point of view
Juan Alvarez, whose daughter Annelise plays volleyball at St. Brendan School in Miami, has no issue with revealing those details should the policy become mandatory. Alvarez acknowledged they haven’t divulged such information in the past, he said.
“I’m OK with that,” he told the Herald Thursday. “To me, that’s not a big deal. If only the doctors or the school or the FHSAA know, then that’s fine.”
Annelise is finishing 11th grade at St. Brendan, where she plays as an outside hitter/defensive specialist on the school’s indoor volleyball team, which advanced to the state semifinals this past season. Alvarez will also play for the school’s beach volleyball team this spring.
But for Fenning, of PRISM, access to someone’s medical information is another effort to clamp down on reproductive autonomy and preventing transgender students from “just being kids and playing sports.”