Ridaught: A female’s right to privacy

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Courtesy of FHSAA

Yesterday the Florida High School Athletic Association Board of Directors held an emergency meeting, which took place virtually and was available to the general public on the FHSAA’s YouTube channel.

It centered on the FHSAA’s physical evaluation form which required disclosure of a female’s menstrual cycle in order to participate in athletics. 

The new form would have made it mandatory as recommended by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC). 

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Over 150 emails were submitted, which the Board of Directors had to either read or in this case listen to, as required by state law, before making their decision. So, Leonard Ireland, FHSAA’s public counsel, read them all, leading to a 2-hour plus meeting.  

One woman wrote, “as an athlete, the last thing you want to do is announce to the world your personal and private information regarding your body. It does not matter whether you shout it out loud or pen it on paper. Information regarding a girl’s menstrual cycle is “her” personal and private information. Informing any person of that information should always be her choice or her parents, depending on the age of the student.” 

Some were even attacking emails.  

Many deemed this as an invasion of privacy.  

Public comments included that “rights must be respected” and “protected by state constitution” in defense of a female’s right to privacy.  

Some feared other school personnel would have access. 

The Board of Directors took all this into consideration, and almost unanimously (14-2) decided to remove the questions about menstrual periods. Previously, the form had been modified and it had become mandatory, which sent a lot of parents into an uproar.  

“I do support the motion,” said FHSAA Board of Directors President John Gerdes, who is the Athletic Director at Clearwater Central Catholic. “I think it’s important to stress that our process, at least to me, is very, very important. Sending it to the SMAC committee was the right thing to do.”  

Gerdes noted that for decades these forms have been mandatory in some states, but optional in other states. He felt like his board needed to know a few other things prior to their vote. 

“We are not doctors, so we go to the doctors to find out why is it on the form, is it needed on the form, what are the reasons,” he said. “I think those things are important to know before we make a decision.”

Gerdes said those things are balanced against privacy issues and for him, “the balance does tip over to the privacy issue here and that’s why I support it.” 

He also made it known that they were in no way trying to curtail high school athletics for females in the state of Florida.  

Last year, 129,000 girls in the state of Florida participated in high school athletics. There are 17 state championships in girls sports.  

The only no votes on the EL2 were from Chris Patricca of Lee County and Charlie Ward of Tallahassee. 

Patricca, a former female athlete and a parent of a female student-athlete, said she did not support FHSAA Executive Director Craig Damon’s recommendations for the elimination of the menstrual cycle questions. 

“So many of the comments from the public today felt like they were from almost like Biblical times, reminiscent of the novel, ‘The Red Tent,’” said Patricca, a Lee County School Board Member. 

“Menstruation is a perfectly normal bodily function and thankfully embarrassment and shame surrounding menstruation has decreased as our society has evolved,” she said. “Many of today’s comments, in my opinion, could have the impact of further stigmatizing this perfectly normal bodily function, implying that menstruation is in any way shameful is an archaic notion.” 

In fact, Patricca went one step further, stating that no screening questions requirement “could lead to the avoidance of serious short-term and long-term debilitating conditions for female student-athletes.”

“I would argue that the elimination of the questions is discriminatory toward female athletes because we are not instituting best practices that could protect them,” she said.

Patricca went on to state that keeping the questions on the form, but not sharing the form with the schools, “ensures that potential health concerns surrounding abnormal menstrual cycles are at least part of the conversation before the doctor clears the athlete.”

The new form will be available during the 2023-24 school year.

For more information, here is the Board of Directors recap of Thursday’s meeting.

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