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‘Florida Female Student Athletes Have to Report Their Menstrual History to Play’

Claim

"Florida female student athletes have to report their menstrual history to play: When they got their first period, when they had their last one, etc. A third party has access to that info, and parents and doctors are [objecting.]"

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On October 3 2022, social media discourse followed claims that Florida’s female student athletes were made to disclose their “menstrual history” in order to participate in athletics:

Florida female student athletes are asked about their menstrual history. That’s raising red flags and concerns in a post-‘Roe’ world from politics

A popular Imgur submission showed an October 4 2022 tweet from a Florida newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, which read:

Florida female student athletes have to report their menstrual history to play: When they got their first period, when they had their last one, etc. A third party has access to that info, and parents and doctors are [objecting]

On Imgur, the original poster (OP) only linked to a reply to the tweet, not the tweet itself:

The tweet was indeed posted by the Florida Times-Union (@jaxdotcom) on October 4 2022. It included a link to information about the claims, but the article was behind a hard paywall — preventing anyone interested in the story from becoming informed about it.

We were able to track down an archived version of the article, published on October 4 2022. The headline, “Florida asks student athletes about their periods. Why some find it ‘shocking’ post-Roe,” was the only visible part of the story for readers without explicit access — which included crucial context about Florida student athletes’ “menstrual history.”

After describing “seizures” and “fainting spells” as health information required of Florida’s student athletes, the article explained:

But all female athletes in the state also are asked to report their history of menstrual periods: When they got their first period, how many weeks pass between periods and when they had their last one, to name a few.

The information is reported on athletes’ annual physical form, which they are required to fill out with a physician and turn in to their school’s athletic director.

The questions have been put to students across the state for two decades, most often on a written form on paper, but this fall [of 2022] when some districts took the form to a digital platform kept by a third party, parents and doctors began raising red flags.

Amid seismic political and legislative changes around reproductive rights in the United States in 2022, most of which were led by blatant far-right disinformation campaigns, the claim understandably read as an alarming new development. However, the paywalled article included context about how the questions were asked of students for the preceding “two decades,” clarifying that what had prompted concern on the part of parents and doctors was the digital platform and third-party access:

Their concerns have been heightened both by a shifting political landscape criminalizing abortions and scrutinizing transgender athletes and the growing threat to medical privacy in a digital age.

All of the forms — whether paper or digital — are subject to subpoena.

Subsequently, those concerns were described in the story, which reported that the introduction of digital records and third parties in conjunction with a loss of abortion rights caused alarm, but added that paper records were also subject to subpoena:

Their concerns have been heightened both by a shifting political landscape criminalizing abortions and scrutinizing transgender athletes and the growing threat to medical privacy in a digital age.

All of the forms — whether paper or digital — are subject to subpoena.

[…]

Menstrual history and patient privacy have been cast in a new light following the Supreme Court’s June 24 [2022] decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the constitutional right to have an abortion.

At the beginning of the article, the story provided a link to a standard form from the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), which is the governing body for high school athletics in the state of Florida. That form [“Florida High School Athletic Association Preparticipation Physical Evaluation,” PDF] was uploaded in March 2020, long before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

Its second page included the following section, substantiating the claim Florida’s female student athletes were asked to disclose their menstrual histories to districts statewide:

florida student athlete menstrual history 2022

The Florida Times-Union noted that the form was “standard across all Florida school districts.” The outlet added that the section had “been on the form since at least 2002, according to documents provided by the FHSAA.”

That reporting also quoted Dr. Michael Haller, a pediatric endocrinologist from Gainesville, Florida who worked with transgender patients. Haller stated that he didn’t know why school districts would “need that access to that type of information,” but later addressed specific concerns relating to transgender students:

As some community groups push districts to be more gender inclusive, parents and activists have wondered whether the questions about menstruation could be used to “out” transgender athletes — male athletes who get periods or female athletes who don’t.

“It’s anti-choice and the anti-trans politics rolled into one,” [Joan Waitkevicz, president of the Palm Beach County Democratic Women’s Club] said.

But Haller, who works with trans youth in his endocrinology practice, isn’t so sure. As long as the form doesn’t require the menstruation questions or the athlete to report their sex assigned at birth, it’s unlikely to “out” trans athletes, he said.

“If they’re forcing the issue then I would call it anti-trans,” Haller said. “That’s probably the better question: Why do they have the questions in the first place?”

Concern regarding transgender students in Florida was to be expected. Earlier in 2022, Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill (colloquially known as its “Don’t Say Gay” bill) contained provisions affecting LGBTQ students, parents, and teachers in Florida:

Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Amendment Outing LGBT Kids

Ultimately, the controversy appeared to be driven in part by the presence of a paywall between an alarming tweet and the attached, nuanced reporting. Although the article linked to the form and dated it back to “at least 2002,” most readers did not have access to that context as the tweet circulated.

An October 4 2022 Florida Times-Union tweet claimed “Florida female student athletes have to report their menstrual history to play,” an assertion widely interpreted to be new in the 2022-2023 school year — and colored by Florida’s approach to both reproductive rights and transgender students. It is true that the FHSAA’s form included a section for “FEMALES ONLY” pertaining to menstrual history. That section dated back to 2022 or earlier, and medical and parental concerns primarily involved the introduction of third-party software to receive and store the information.