FHSAA agrees to remove menstrual history questions from student athlete forms
This story has been updated as of Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023 at 1:48 p.m.
The organization that governs high school sports in Florida agreed to remove controversial questions about menstrual history for student athletes, according to the Palm Beach Post.
The form, itself, is mandatory, but — under the previous version — sections about student athletes' periods was not.
In January, a committee of doctors and athletic trainers said the questions should be required, prompting broad pushback from the public and state lawmakers.
This led to the Florida High School Athletics Association board to hold an emergency meeting Thursday to consider scrapping the questions altogether.
Instead, the FHSAA changed one field on the annual medical form without discussion. The form now asks student athletes for their "sex assigned at birth."
The debate about the menstrual history questions on student athlete medical forms started in June 2022. Palm Beach County Public Schools had decided to move the forms online, when high school sports coaches began to share their concerns with the Palm Beach Post about the new system.
“Parents and students didn't understand it. That was really slowing things down. Even some football practices got canceled over the summer because people were having to use this online form,” said Katherine Kokal, who covers education for the Post and whose reporting has been driving the debate.
In her reporting, Kokal outlined how the move then began to worry some about how the private health data of students was being stored and protected online — a concern heightened in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
WLRN's Sherrilyn Cabrera spoke with Kokal about her coverage of the scrutiny over menstrual questions for student athletes, and why it matters.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
CABRERA: Can you give us a brief timeline about the ongoing controversy regarding athletes' menstrual history and athletic medical forms? How did it all start?
KOKAL: As a lot of people know, these questions are not new. They have been on the statewide athlete registration form since at least 2002. A parent of a student who actually doesn't get a period reached out to me at the Post and said, ‘Hey, I'm filling out this online form, and there are some questions about athlete's menstrual history and I'm not really comfortable with that.’ So, I talked to other parents in August. School was just starting. Many had admitted to not even really noticing these questions before. But with the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, in the wake of that, they've been reconsidering the reproductive privacy of themselves, their students and others in the school system.
The Florida High School Athletic Association, the FHSAA, is the nonprofit organization that is told by state law to handle the registration and the coordination of public school athletics in Florida. And so the FHSAA puts out these documents every year. They're reviewed every couple of years by physicians and the board of directors. And every Florida athlete who is in a public school program has to fill out the same form. So our investigation dug into where these questions came from, how physicians felt about the answers to these questions being submitted to school districts, and where that information was going, specifically in Palm Beach County where this information is now stored online.
That started the ball rolling very quickly. The Palm Beach County School Board and the Broward School Board sent letters to the FHSAA, asking that these questions be removed. And the board of directors met in November to discuss this. At the time, the board of directors kicked it back to their sports medicine committee, which is a committee made up of physicians and athletic trainers, to discuss what the next steps should be. And that brought us to January when that sports medicine committee met and actually decided that instead of removing the questions from this forum, that they were going to make the questions mandatory and require that all student athletes in Florida turn in all of their medical history to their school district when they registered to play.
CABRERA: So what is the argument supporters make for mandating them now?
KOKAL: I've talked to physicians who have said it's very important to talk to young people about their menstrual cycle because very athletic people can often have decreased menstruation. There can be irregularities in athletes’ menstrual period. And it's important to know that because it can be a signal of malnutrition. It can be a signal of female athlete triad disorders that can lead to decreased bone density.
KOKAL: I've spoken with athletic trainers and I've heard them talk about parents not letting the athletic trainer know that a child has asthma or that they have an important condition that can really impact their performance on the field. And so the concern with people who argue that students should fill in their entire medical history and turn it into schools is that more information is always better than less in an emergency situation.
There are still other people who kind of critique that and they say [it's] totally understandable. You want to know if a student has asthma, if they've had previous surgeries or bone breaks, things like that. But they question whether the menstrual history is really that important for a school personal trainer to know.
CABRERA: Do other states mandate that student athletes answer menstrual history questions?
KOKAL: Not only are these questions not new, but they're not just being asked in Florida. So I reviewed pre-participation physical exam forms from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and I found that 35 states in the country pose these questions to athletes and require them to turn in the answers to their schools.
There are ten states, though, that specifically instruct athletes not to turn in their medical history, which includes their menstrual history when they register to play. Those ten states tend to use a national form that was created by the American Academy of Pediatrics that specifically tells athletes that only the sign off form [from their physician] ... should be turned in.