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High school sports group rethinks menstrual cycle questions

School sporting events continue throughout Jackson despite the water crisis.
Leslie Gamboni for NPR
The association’s board is meeting today to vote on whether to adopt the four-page form that would require student-athletes to submit to their schools only the last page of the form, stating their eligibility to participate in sports.

Facing blowback, the director of Florida’s high school sports governing body is backing away from using an eligibility form that requires female athletes to disclose their menstrual history in order to compete.

Instead, the executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association is recommending that most personal information revealed on medical history forms stay at the doctor’s office and not be stored at school.

The association's board has an emergency meeting Thursday to vote on whether to adopt the four-page form — which would remove questions that force student-athletes to share details about their menstruation cycles in order to be participate in sports.

Many other states ask or order female athletes to include details about their menstruation cycles with other health information.

The Florida association’s spokesperson has said the proposed changes were not in response to concerns about transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, as some social media users claim.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2021 signed a bill barring transgender girls and women from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes identified as girls at birth, which put DeSantis and the state into the national cultural debate over transgender rights.

Under the new Florida recommendation, answers to additional questions about mental health, alcohol and drug use, and family health history would stay in the offices of the health care practitioner who conducted the medical screening.

An earlier version of the form, which had mandatory questions about students' menstrual histories, had been recommended by an advisory committee of the association. Committee members said making the menstrual cycle questions mandatory rather than optional was consistent with national guidelines for sports physicals developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine and other groups.

The national guidelines said menstrual history is an “essential discussion for female athletes” because period abnormalities could be a sign of “low energy availability, pregnancy, or other gynecologic or medical conditions.”

However, the earlier version of the form “created concerns and questions from parents, school district administrators, school board members and coaches regarding the health privacy of student-athletes," according to the Florida association board's Thursday meeting agenda.

“Therefore, this recommendation provides pertinent medical history to the qualified health care practitioner and gives schools the medical authorization necessary for allowing athletic participation, while the protecting the privacy of the student-athlete," the agenda item said.

Thursday's meeting was being held after a group of Democratic state lawmakers sent a letter this week to John Gerdes, the association's president, calling the reporting requirements in the earlier proposed form “highly invasive." The letter said, “no girl should be forced to disclose her bodily functions to someone who is not her mother, father, caretaker, or physician."

The state lawmakers said they were concerned that, if the schools had the information, a coach or athletic director would be able to get access to it. With the current form, such questions are optional, not mandatory; in the revised form under consideration, they would be scrapped.

“There is absolutely no reason for FHSAA to collect such private information and no reason why the schools need it," the lawmakers said in the letter.

Mike Schneider
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