Beginning next school year, Florida teens will no longer be asked about their menstrual histories to play high school sports.
The Florida High School Athletic Association’s governing board voted 14-2 on Thursday to remove four questions on the topic from a new version of the medical form that must be signed by a physician for students to play high school sports.
To protect students’ medical information, the board also ruled that only the page with the doctor’s signature will be shared with schools. That part includes information critical to a first responder like whether a student has a history of asthma, allergies or concussions.
The athletic association, which rarely draws attention, found itself in the middle of a public firestorm after its medical advisory committee recommended adopting a version of the form with mandatory questions about menstruation. The form that has been used in Florida for at least the past decade asks similar questions, but they are marked as optional. That paperwork is currently filed with schools.
During Thursday’s emergency meeting, around 150 emails, most from outraged parents, physicians and pediatricians, were read into the record. Among them were parents of girls who take part in high school sports threatening to take them out of competition. Others expressed anger about the “inappropriate and invasive” violation of students’ privacy and warned it would deter girls and women from playing sports.
The National Women’s Law Center’s email included a petition with 5,500 signatures. It repeated concerns that spread on social media that the data could be used to prevent transgender students from playing sports or in criminal abortion cases. Florida already has a law, passed in 2021, that bans transgender female students from competing in women’s and girls’ sports.
“When lawmakers and school officials go after the rights of LGBTQI+ students, everyone’s bodies end up under surveillance,” said Sawyeh Esmaili, the center’s senior counsel for reproductive rights.
John Gerdes, the board chairperson and athletic director at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, said the proposal was not political and balked at accusations that the athletic association wanted to discourage female participation in sports. About 109,000 girls and women compete in Florida high school sports, he said.
“The governor’s office had nothing to do with this,” Gerdes said in response to allegations that the board was influenced by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration. “We felt no pressure from them; they didn’t contact us.”
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Board members said they could not remember an issue where feedback was so overwhelmingly skewed in one direction and were unhappy that the athletic association had come under fire. The version of the form recommended by the advisory committee is approved by most of the national medical associations, said Executive Director Craig Damon.
Board member Douglas Dodd, who sits on the Citrus County School Board, voted with the majority. He said all three of his daughters played middle and high school sports.
“I really understand the concern over making these questions mandatory,” said Dodd. “Our family felt that these questions were private, and we chose not to answer those optional questions.”
Chris Patricca, one of only two women on the 16-member board, who serves as a school board member in Lee County, voted against the change. She said it made no sense to remove the questions about menstrual cycles since that information would no longer be shared with schools.
Abnormal menstrual cycles can be a warning sign of poor health or signal that a student’s diet is inadequate for the level of training and competition they are undertaking, according to Boston Children’s Hospital.
That could make them more prone to injuries, so it would be vital information for a physician approving a student to compete, Patricca said.
“I would argue that the elimination of the questions is discriminatory toward female athletes,” she said. “Because we are not instituting best practices that could protect them.”