Florida high school sports officials reconsider menstrual questions

FLORIDA – 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 participate in sports.

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Under the new 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.

News4JAX spoke with a mother who started a petition against the questions, calling the new requirement highly invasive and troubling for teenage girls.

When was your first and most recent menstrual period? How much time do you usually have from the start of one to the other? How many periods have you had in the last year?

READ: FHSAA questionnaire

These are questions that have appeared on Florida student athletic registration form since 2002 as optional, Jenn Poggie is adamant about them not becoming mandatory to answer.

“When I spoke with my 16-year-old to let her know that this proposal was being considered, and that there were four mandatory questions related to menstrual cycles, she was deeply disturbed. I mean, moved almost to tears,” Poggie said.

Poggie started a petition ahead of Thursday’s emergency meeting called by the Florida High School Athletics Association, which argues doctors consider it important to discuss menstrual irregularities with young female athletes.

Robert Sefcik a board member of the FHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, said the questions about menstrual history align with guidelines from national medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. He also said it’s important physical information to keep female student-athletes healthy and safe.

“There are many things from those medical history questions that a doctor could consider in perhaps doing additional tests,” Sefcik said. “So, some common things that female athletes may present with would be some bone stress injuries, could be stress fractures, like that, other nuisance injuries that can result in lifelong disabilities. You know, really the physical exam portion is the same, but the information obtained from the menstrual history part from a female athlete can really help a physician keep a female athlete healthy. So, you know, we talk about things like a female athlete triad. You know, there could be menstrual dysfunction that, you know, could predispose somebody to medical or musculoskeletal injuries, things like that. So, they’re really essential questions, in keeping a female athlete safe.”

But, the mandatory questions about students’ menstrual histories, “created concerns and questions from parents, school district administrators, school board members and coaches regarding the health privacy of student-athletes,” according to the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.

“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.


About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.