Student Health Rights

ACCESSING CONFIDENTIAL MEDICAL SERVICES DURING SCHOOL

Do I have the right to access and receive health services as a student?

YES. In California, students have many rights when it comes to accessing health services. In fact, California has some of the strongest laws in the country that protect your right to access certain sensitive health care services, including reproductive and sexual health services, on a confidential basis. These services are sometimes called “confidential medical services” or “sensitive services.”

Does my age affect what types of medical services I can access as a student?

YES. In California, students of any age have the right to access birth control (including emergency contraception), pregnancy testing and prenatal care, abortion services, and rape, abuse, or assault services confidentially and without needing anyone else’s permission.

If you are 12 years of age or older, you also have the right to access mental health treatment, drug and/or alcohol treatment, and prevention, testing, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.

It is your right to get these health services confidentially and without needing anyone else’s permission. Generally, this means the clinic or doctor cannot tell anyone—including your family—why you were there unless you allow them to.

However, if you are a minor and you report physical abuse or sexual abuse to a healthcare provider, your provider must report the abuse to the police or child abuse authorities, who can then contact your parent/guardian.

It is up to you to decide what information you share with your health care provider.

Do I need to bring my parent to come with me to access these medical services?

NO. You can go to your appointment alone, but if you would like to bring someone with you for support you can. However, if you can, and it is safe to do so, we encourage you to talk to your parent, guardian, or other trusted adult for support.

If I am a minor, can I get help paying for my confidential medical services?

YES. In California, you also have the right to free or low-cost reproductive and sexual health care services if you do not have insurance, do not want to use your parent’s or spouse’s insurance, or cannot afford it on your own.

The Medi-Cal Minor Consent Program confidentially covers various services for eligible minors.  Learn more about Medi-Cal Consent at https://www.teenhealthrights.org/teen_faq/what-is-medi-cal-minor-consent/.

If I am a minor and a beneficiary on my parent’s or guardian’s health insurance plan, will they be able to access my medical records relating to abortion?

NO.  California law requires that health insurers take steps keep your medical records private, even if you are not the policy holder. This includes not sharing your history of “sensitive services,” including reproductive and sexual health care and mental or behavioral health care, with your parent or guardian unless you have given your express permission.

Health insurers are required to send communications relating to sensitive services directly to the person who received the medical services. However, to ensure your records remain private, it is strongly recommended that you contact your health insurer to confirm your mailing address, email address, and/or phone number to receive communications.

Can I go see a doctor during school hours to access these specific services?

YES. California law requires schools to excuse students for medical appointments they can consent to on their own, such as those described above. Schools cannot require parental notification or permission prior to releasing the student for that medical appointment. Schools must keep information about your appointment confidential, and cannot share that information with anyone, including a parent or guardian.

Your school can call the doctor or clinic to confirm you have an appointment and the appointment’s time (but cannot ask about the kind of care you are receiving). Your teachers must allow you to make up any missed assignments.

RIGHT TO ACCESS MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS AT SCHOOL

Does my school have to provide free menstrual products?

POSSIBLY YES.  As of the start of the 2022-23 school year, The Menstrual Equity for All Act (California Education Code section 35292.6), requires all California public schools serving any grade between 6-12 to provide free menstrual products—including both tampons and pads—in all women’s restrooms, all-gender restrooms, and in at least one men’s restroom. California public schools include schools operated by a school district or county office of education, and charter schools serving any grade 6-12.

The law also requires schools to post a notice telling students about this right in every restroom where menstrual products must be provided. This notice must include the contact information, including both an email address and telephone number, for the person who is responsible for maintaining the supply of menstrual products in that restroom.

Do I have to ask for free menstrual products at my school to get them?

Generally, NO. If your school teaches any grade between 6-12, menstrual products should be free and available in all women’s restrooms, all-gender restrooms, and at least one men’s restroom and you should not have to ask for free menstrual products each time you need them.

In which restrooms can I find free menstrual products at my school?

A MIX. Schools teaching any grades 6-12 must make menstrual products available in all women’s restroom and all-gender restrooms and at least one men’s restroom.

As of 2017, California’s Equal Restroom Access Act requires “single-user” restrooms to be marked as “all gender” restrooms, so all “single-user” restrooms should also be stocked with free menstrual products.

Can I do something if my school has students in grades 6-12, but is still not providing free menstrual products like it is supposed to?

YES! No matter the situation, there are several steps you can take if your school is not providing free menstrual products. Whether your school has not started implementing the law at all or if it is not implementing the law correctly or fully, you can make a big impact.

If the Menstrual Equity for All Act applies to your school and your school has not begun implementing a free menstrual product program, you can contact your principal, vice principal or other school administrator and let them know that California Education Code Section 35292.6 requires your school to make pads and tampons available for free in school restrooms. You can also send your school a letter asking them to fix the problem—for a sample letter, check out the resources linked at the end of this page.

If your school still does not provide menstrual products, you can also contact the superintendent of your school district and send them a copy of your letter. If your school still refuses or fails to help, may want to consider filing a written Uniform Complaint Procedure (“UCP”) discrimination complaint. You can learn more about UCP complaints at https://www.myschoolmyrights.com/rights/file-a-complaint-with-your-school/. Always make sure you keep a dated copy of your complaint for your records.

Finally, you can work with your fellow students to advocate for a strong menstrual products program. For more support on how to make sure your school is doing all it can to implement the Menstrual Equity for All Act, check out the student organizing toolkit and district implementation handbook resources linked at the bottom of this page.

You can also contact us at ACLU of Northern California, ACLU of Southern California, or ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

Can I be punished for not participating in school activities due to my period?

IT DEPENDS. California law says that students may be temporarily exempted from physical education classes if they are “ill or injured.” (Cal. Educ. Code § 51241.) If you are seeking an excused absence from physical education classes or sports practices because of your period, you can provide a note from a doctor, parent, or guardian, or speak with your teacher or coach, specifying why you need to be excused. While school officials have discretion to grant or deny individual student’s request to be excused, schools cannot discriminate against students on the basis of gender. (Some laws that prevent this type of discrimination are California Education Code § 220 and 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.)

If your school is punishing you because of your period or your need to access menstrual products, you can file a written Uniform Complaint Procedure (“UCP”) discrimination complaint with your school (see above). Alternatively, you can file a Title IX complaint with the Federal Department of Education. Learn more at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html.

RESOURCES FOR MORE INFO ON STUDENTS’ RIGHTS TO ACCESS FREE MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS