New Menstrual-Product Dispensers Require Tokens From the Front Office — or Quarters
Signs on the dispensers read “25¢, quarters or tokens” / Credits: Tess Buckley
In an effort to address problems of menstrual equity, DCPS high schools installed menstrual-product dispensers in student restrooms over February break. The dispensers are located within the basement-, first-, and second-floor girls’ restrooms, as well as the first floor’s gender-neutral restroom. Labels on the dispensers indicate they accept “quarters or tokens.”
The District of Columbia has recently begun to address barriers of access to menstrual products through statutes like the Expanding Student Access to Period Products Act of 2022. This act requires D.C. schools to install and maintain dispensers of free-for-use period products in women’s and gender-neutral restrooms.
“They’re not supposed to charge,” said Ms. Pace, class of 2025 counselor. And technically, they don’t.
Unbeknown to most students, the front office holds “tokens” available to use at the menstrual product dispensers. Administration is also considering providing class counselors with tokens, but has not instituted this change. Because the existence of tokens has not been publicized, many students were disappointed by what they viewed as a paywall blocking access to necessary sanitary products. “I first saw [the dispensers] at Jackson-Reed, then at Walls,” said Sonali Cohen (‘25). “I was extremely disappointed in DCPS’s decision to have them cost money. The fact that we have to pay is tired and old-fashioned, especially with-in an environment that teaches us to fight against injustices.”
A person’s menstrual cycle is not something they have control over. Because of this, many argue that it is unethical to charge for menstrual products. Students at Walls have worked to broaden access to these products through organizations like the Monthly Club, who partnered with the D.C. Diaper Bank to supply people in the district with pads and tampons. Last year, they also placed free products in the restrooms.
Compared to these student-led measures, many members of the Walls community feel that the new dispensers are a step backwards for Walls. “[The dispensers] just replace one barrier of access with another,” said Eleanor Brosowsky (‘26).
The inaccessibility of the tokens poses new questions: should it be necessary for students to speak to another person before gaining free access to dispensed menstrual products? How might they access dispensed menstrual products without paying?
Ms. Pace recognized these issues. “We just have to figure out how to put the tokens in restrooms so students can just take a token without having to see a person first.