A controversy has erupted over a proposed change to high school athletics participation paperwork that could require female students to reveal their menstruation history.
The Florida High School Athletic Association, a Gainesville nonprofit that administers high school sports, is considering adopting a national version of a medical form that doctors sign to clear students to play sports.
The Preparticipation Physical Evaluation form used in Florida includes questions about concussions, allergies and blood pressure. It also includes optional questions for female students about when they had their first period and how often they menstruate. The forms are kept at their schools.
The national paperwork has similar questions, but the ones for female athletes are not marked as optional.
That has raised concerns about invasion of students’ privacy. It’s also raised questions about whether the information could be used in cases against women and girls charged with violating Florida’s new 15-week abortion law. Social media buzz has also suggested the move is intended to prevent transgender students from participating in high school sports. Florida passed a law in 2021 banning transgender female students from competing in women’s and girls’ sports.
The association’s governing body is scheduled to consider the issue later this month.
The meeting will likely include discussion about whether questions on menstruation should remain optional and whether the forms should be retained by medical providers with only the doctor’s signature page submitted to schools, according to Ryan Harrison, the association’s spokesperson.
Here’s what else to know.
Why might the form change?
The association’s governing board is scheduled to hear recommendations from the agency’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee on the future of the form. The board is comprised of athletic directors, coaches, school superintendents and school board members from around the state. The current makeup of the board is 14 men and two women.
Why does the form ask about menstruation?
Extreme exercise and diet can affect the menstrual cycle of female athletes and would be useful information for a doctor asked to clear a high school girl to play competitive sports. Florida’s form, which has been used for many years, includes an optional section marked females only. It features the following questions:
- When was your first menstrual period?
- When was your most recent menstrual period?
- How much time do you usually have from the start of one period to the start of another?
- How many periods have you had in the last year?
- What was the longest time between periods in the last year?
Why is this form a concern?
The biggest concern is that girls may be deterred from playing high school sports if they have to provide highly personal information like the date of their last period to their school, said Sarah Zipp, an associate professor who teaches sports management at Mount St. Mary’s University.
“We know from research that dealing with menstrual cycles is one of the challenges that prevents adolescents from continuing in sport,” she said. “We don’t want to create any more barriers to keep people in sport. We should be doing the opposite.”
The filing of completed forms with schools has also raised concerns about who may have access to confidential medical information. In many other states, schools only receive the doctor’s signature page.
Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Lake Mary, the vice chairperson of the Senate’s Health Policy committee, said he thinks making the student athlete’s menstrual history mandatory could be a violation of the federal law that mandates sensitive patient information is protected and kept confidential.
”You’ve got to have all new protocols around data safety and storage for this health information that they’re really not equipped to do,” he said, referring to schools.
Is there a political agenda behind this?
After the proposed change was first reported by the Palm Beach Post, PRISM, a South Florida nonprofit organization that provides sexual health information to LGBTQ+ youth, has condemned the move as an effort to “stigmatize and demonize transgender people in sports.”
Democratic State Sen. Lori Berman D-Boynton Beach, said she understands that the issue came to light after a parent complained about the questions. But she still has concerns about how confidential medical data is protected.
She hopes the association governing board will adopt the practice of sending only the sign-off page to schools but said she is prepared to file a bill in the upcoming legislative session if she’s unhappy with the outcome.
“We don’t ask boys when they started puberty,” she said. “I have no problem with a doctor and patient having a discussion about menstruation history. Whatever the questions are, they should not be given to the school.”
Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the location where the Florida High School Athletic Association is based due to a reporting error.