- Associated Press - Thursday, February 9, 2023

ORLANDO, Fla. — Questions about female athletes’ menstrual history will no longer appear on the medical forms that Florida high school students have to fill out before participating in sports.

The Florida High School Athletic Association axed the questions on Thursday after listening to a flood of complaints contained in letters read aloud during an emergency meeting of the board.

Some called the questions “humiliating” and “invasive,” and others suggested they were connected to a recent bill barring transgender girls and women from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes identified as girls at birth.

“This is another way to shame girls,” Connie DeWitt said in a letter.

Dr. Deborah White wrote that there was “zero” reason for a school to know about students’ menstrual history.

“The only reason is to weed out transgender kids who may not have periods,” White’s letter said. “As a doctor I would never fill out this form.”

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill in 2021, thrusting the state into the national cultural debate over transgender rights. DeSantis is widely believed to be considering a run for president next year on a deeply conservative platform.

The association’s spokesperson has 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 politics played no part in the decision to change the form.

“This governor and his office had nothing to do with this,” Gerdes said.

Many other states ask or order female athletes to include details about their menstruation cycles with other health information.

The association on Thursday adopted a recommendation from its executive director that would keep most personal information revealed on the medical history forms at doctor’s offices and not at schools.

The four-page form adopted by the board will still contain questions about mental health, alcohol and drug use, and family health history, but the answers will stay in the offices of the health care practitioner who conducted the medical screening. Schools would only get one page of the form declaring the students’ medical eligibility.

An earlier version of a proposed, revised form, which had mandatory questions about students’ menstrual histories, had been recommended by an advisory committee of the association. Members of the medical advisory committee claimed they were following national guidelines for sports physicals developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine and other groups.

The national guidelines say menstrual history is an “essential discussion for female athletes” because period abnormalities could be a sign of “low energy availability, pregnancy, or other gynecologic or medical conditions.”

However, Dr. Judith Simms-Cendan, a pediatric-adolescent gynecologist in Miami and a fellow with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the earlier proposal in Florida wasn’t consistent with national guidelines put out by The American Academy of Pediatrics. The academy only recommended that a medical eligibility form be sent to the school, not personal information, she said.

Two of the board members who voted against the executive director’s recommendation said there was no reason that answers to the questions about menstrual history couldn’t be asked and stored at the medical practitioners’ offices instead of shared with schools. Sometimes medical evaluations for sports eligibility are the only chances students have to meet with health care providers, and having the questions on the form can help detect any medical problems, said board member Chris Patricca.

“Student athletes are safer and better protected by the inclusion of these questions,” she said.

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