Florida withdraws menstrual data from athletes, but the debate persists

Florida has backed off its efforts to force athletes to provide their high schools with information about their menstrual cycles after the debate sparked nationwide opposition, and now the state is facing questions over whether the plan was based on politics or about politics.

Doctors often ask students about their periods to figure out if they’re healthy enough to compete. But the problem exploded when the Florida High School Athletic Association proposed using a form that required providing that information directly to schools, rather than just health professionals.

Critics have questioned whether there were political motivations as Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis weighs in a run for president. Opposition to abortion and transgender female athletes are major tenants of the GOP, and DeSantis has signed bills on both issues.

Amid backlash, the association voted on Thursday to recommend that most personal information revealed on medical history forms stay with the doctor’s office and not be kept at school. The new form, however, has been changed to ask athletes for their assigned sex at birth, rather than just their gender.

Here’s a guide to the conflict, what experts are saying about it, and the lack of data on what other states have asked families to share.


The proposed revisions to the form include four mandatory menstruation questions: whether the student has ever had a period, the age of her first period, the date of her most recent period, and how many periods she has had in the last year.

An earlier version also asked questions about periods, but answering them was optional.


Anger has exploded over the proposal, with Democratic state lawmakers sending a letter calling the requirement “highly invasive” and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten denouncing it as “dystopian” in a tweets.

Hundreds also went online to sign a Change.org petition called “Privacy. Period!” Petitions writer Jenn Meale Poggie said her 16-year-old daughter, a soccer player, was moved almost to tears when she learned of the proposal.

“That,” Poggie said, “is how deeply these girls are emotionally affected by this kind of politics.”

Questions about transgender athletes and abortion have joined the debate.

“If this is used to screen for miscarriage or transgender risk, that’s really misleading screening,” said Dr.

DeSantis entered the national cultural debate about transgender rights in 2021 when she signed into law a bill limiting participation in women’s public school sports to female athletes identified as female at birth. She also signed a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy last year.

The association’s spokesperson said the proposed changes were not in response to concerns about transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, as some social media users have claimed. And association president John Gerdes stressed that neither the governor nor politics played a role in the discussions


The association’s medical advisory board said it had recommended making menstrual histories mandatory because they were based on guidance from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The group of pediatricians, however, insisted they never intended to provide information on menstrual histories to schools. “They’re not following our lead,” said Dr. Rebecca Carl, chair-elect of the AAP’s Sports Medicine and Fitness Council.

Gerdes did not immediately respond to emails from the Associated Press asking why the association misreported the medical group’s lead.


The American Academy of Pediatrics has been working with sports organizations to come up with a set of forms doctors could use to evaluate aspiring athletes, said Carl, also a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University in Chicago.

One form, designed to be filled out by athletes and their families, asks about things like drug use, eating disorders, mental health and menstrual histories. Questions about menstruation are important because strenuous exercise can temporarily stop menstruation, lowering estrogen levels and increasing the risk of bone fractures, Carl said.

But only a medical eligibility form — without information about menstrual histories — is intended to be provided to a school or sports organization, and it clearly states so. That form includes space for the doctor to include information about allergies, medications, and whether the student is healthy enough to compete.

There are 26 states that use the latest version of the pediatrician group forms. 23 other states and the District of Columbia use a variant. Only one state, New Hampshire, doesn’t have a claimed preferred shape, said Andrea Smith, a professor of nursing at Auburn University who researched which shapes states use as part of a study of heart risks in athletes.

The National Federation of State High School Associations recommends that each state have an evaluation process, but has no details on what has been put into practice.

Carl, the pediatrician, said there is variation.

“But,” he stressed, “they should really just ask for this medical fitness form. The AAP has been very clear and consistent about this.”


Making period history questions optional, as they were in the previous form, also raised alarms this fall. The Palm Beach County School District asked the association to drop period questions altogether because it offered a digital option for submitting forms. In the past, the district kept records only in paper form.

“Our concern is really that this is information for healthcare professionals,” Carl said. in a filing cabinet that is not properly secured.”

That was exactly the concern expressed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in a statement, noting that information provided to schools is not subject to HIPAA, the federal privacy rules that govern the healthcare industry.

Simms-Cendan, a fellow at ACOG, said she spends a lot of time educating teens to also be careful about which period-tracking apps they use to ensure their data stays private.

“There are really unscrupulous people out there,” he said.


Mike Schneider of Orlando, Florida contributed to this report.

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