When she started her period at 11-years-old, Clarissa Renteria’s mother taught her how to get by without pads or tampons.
She made do with toilet paper or wore an extra pair of underwear.
Renteria, now 19, of Tulare County, remembers using newspaper because her family was out of toilet paper.
Her father, a convicted drug dealer, once offered a female client drugs if she would steal pads for his family.
“I grew up very, very poor,” she said. “It was a burden to bleed.”
Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill 10, which requires middle and high schools where at least 40 percent of students meet federal poverty standards to put free menstrual products in the bathrooms.
Earlier this year, Renteria told her story to legislators in Sacramento, urging them to pass the legislation, which goes into effect next year.
It was a burden to bleed.
Clarissa Renteria, 19, of Woodlake
She said she was charged 75 cents for feminine hygiene products as a student at La Joya Middle School in Visalia, and had to sign IOUs when she didn’t have the money.
“That change went to milk, to gas, to diapers,” she said. “I didn’t ask to bleed, and you’re getting money from it. You’re profiting from something that we can’t help.”
Angela Sanchez, area superintendent for Visalia Unified, said she couldn’t speak to Renteria’s case, but that the district’s current policy is to provide pads to students at no cost.
“We really want to make sure that our young ladies are able to take care of themselves in that way, and there’s no charge, ever,” Sanchez said Friday.
Advocates say cases like Renteria’s are not uncommon in the central San Joaquin Valley, which is home to some of the state’s poorest school districts.
Fresno Unified trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said a lack of feminine care products “is not an abstract situation” at FUSD, where nearly 90 percent of students are considered low income.
Menstrual products are necessities for our young women, and I'm glad we are recognizing them as such.
Elizabeth Jonasson-Rosas, Fresno Unified trustee
“Menstrual products are necessities for our young women, and I’m glad we are recognizing them as such – as something our students need, as a health matter and not a taboo subject,” she said. “If you don’t have the money for pads, tampons or other similar products as a young woman, you may be staying at home in order to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation.”
Gail Williams, Fresno Unified’s director of health services, said that the nurses’ office at each school is supplied with pads, and some nurses have opted to purchase tampons for their school site as well.
“Some of them, out of a sense of responsibility for kids, have asked them for a quarter, but if a kid didn’t have a quarter, they never refused them,” she said.
Williams said the new legislation will help break down barriers for students, families and schools staff.
The general taboo of talking about a young person's period adds to the pressure of having to advocate for their own health needs at a young age.
Sarah Hutchinson, ACT for Women and Girls
“It is something that we find ourselves in the nurse’s office often helping our kids cope with, and teaching them about this process,” she said. “Many times, we’ve been the first one that a girl comes to, and we’re the ones who start out teaching them about it.”
ACT for Women and Girls in Visalia advocated for the passage of the new legislation. Sarah Hutchinson, policy director for ACT, said families are doing as much as they can, but pads and tampons often come last on the grocery list.
“Not to mention, the general taboo of talking about a young person’s period adds to the pressure of having to advocate for their own health needs at a young age,” Hutchinson said. “Menstruation is a natural biological fact for nearly half of school-aged youth, and we need to stop thinking of pads and tampons as luxury items and instead as basic necessities.”
A legislative analysis estimated it would cost millions of dollars to install tampon dispensers at schools across the state, and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to stock them.
Another bill, which aimed to remove the sales tax on menstrual products, was stalled this year after being vetoed last year.