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Is your period an excuse to miss school?

Getting your period can be an uncomfortable and inconvenient experience. Cramps, bloating, headaches, and other symptoms often accompany menstruation, making it difficult to focus in class or participate in activities. Some girls and women experience severe menstrual pain, known as dysmenorrhea, that may require them to take time off from school or work. This raises the question – should you be allowed to miss school because of your period? Here are some quick answers to this debate:

Quick Answers

  • Missing 1-2 days of school per month for severe menstrual symptoms is reasonable for most schools and employers.
  • Open communication about menstruation can help create understanding between students and teachers.
  • School policies should allow girls and women to address menstrual needs by going to the bathroom and accessing menstrual products as needed.
  • With a doctor’s note, schools should excuse longer menstrual-related absences for conditions like endometriosis.
  • Taking medication can often treat symptoms allowing students to remain in class.

Menstruation is a natural biological process – not an illness. But severe cramps, heavy bleeding, and other symptoms can disrupt normal activities for many. Striking an empathetic balance is key so students don’t fall behind academically or feel shamed while also receiving needed accommodations. Read on as we dive deeper into this nuanced issue.

How Many Teens and Women Experience Menstrual Pain and Other Symptoms?

Dysmenorrhea, or painful periods, is extremely common among adolescents and women of reproductive age. Some key statistics:

  • At least 50% of postpubertal individuals with periods experience some degree of dysmenorrhea.
  • Among adolescent girls, rates of dysmenorrhea range from 60-93%.
  • Up to 33% of women with dysmenorrhea describe their pain as severe.
  • Symptoms often include cramps, headache, backache, nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue.

Even women without diagnosed conditions can experience heavy menstrual bleeding, cramps, nausea, mood changes, and other period symptoms that make it difficult to concentrate. And underlying disorders like endometriosis that sometimes go undiagnosed can worsen and complicate symptoms.

How Much School Do Students with Painful Periods Miss?

One study found that students experience a high rate of school absenteeism related to their periods:

  • Among students with dysmenorrhea, 15% reported missing at least 1 day of school each cycle.
  • 30-50% miss 1-3 days of school per year due to painful periods.
  • 38% leave school early an average of 4 times per year because of their periods.

This absenteeism appears to increase in direct correlation with the severity of pain and other menstrual symptoms. So for a sizable minority, menstruation does lead them to miss substantial academic time.

Should Schools Excuse Period-Related Absences?

Whether schools should excuse menstrual-related absences depends on the specific circumstances of each student. Here are some considerations:

Doctor Documentation of Underlying Conditions

For conditions like dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, and some reproductive disorders, severe symptoms lasting more than 1-2 days may be unavoidable. With documentation from their doctor, extended absences should be excused by schools.

Using Medication to Attend Class

Many women find their period symptoms can be well-controlled through using an over-the-counter pain reliever, birth control pill, or other medication prescribed by their doctor. As long as medication allows a student to focus and participate in class, attending school should be expected.

Providing Reasonable Short-Term Accommodations

For a day or two each month where cramping is severe, allowing students to complete work from home may be reasonable. They should discuss this ahead of time with each teacher.

Offering Flexible Breaks

Students should be allowed quick restroom breaks to cope with sudden symptoms like heavy bleeding that require changing menstrual products. Having access to pain relievers, heating pads, and other comfort items can also help.

Individual Symptom Severity

While some teens have light, pain-free periods, others experience debilitating cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and heavy bleeding. The level of accommodation should reflect individual symptom severity.

What’s Needed for a Menstrual-Friendly School Environment?

Here are a few policies that can help make schools accommodating of students’ menstrual needs:

  • Flexible Attendance and Assignment Deadlines. Don’t penalize 1-2 period-related absences per month with doctor verification of symptoms.
  • Access to the Nurse’s Office. Allow students to lie down, take medication, and manage pain.
  • Student Education. Teach students to track cycles, prepare for periods, and care for their bodies.
  • Menstrual Products. Stock free pads and tampons in all bathrooms.

Small adaptations make schools more supportive environments for students experiencing periods. Being open and understanding goes a long way.

Are Periods an Acceptable Excuse for Missing Work?

Menstruation alone shouldn’t allow students to freely skip school or neglect responsibilities. But the following policies create a fair compromise:

  • Allow 1 day per month of excused menstrual absence with parent/doctor note.
  • Excuse related lateness/bathroom breaks during severe symptoms.
  • Grant deadline extensions for major projects/exams if requested in advance.
  • Expect regular attendance with symptoms controlled by medication/other care.

Handling periods shouldn’t damage students’ grades or records. But outside acute issues, attending and participating in class should be the norm.

How Can Schools Better Support Menstruating Students?

Here are proactive ways schools can support students experiencing periods or related conditions:

  • Educate staff on menstruation issues and menstrual disorders.
  • Train nurses to assess and care for menstrual problems.
  • Make pain relievers, heating pads, and sanitary products accessible.
  • Allow flexible use of the bathroom and nurse’s office.
  • Create open communication between staff and students.
  • Adjust activity restrictions in PE/sports during menses.

With empathy and the right resources, schools can remove barriers to education for menstruating students.

Table Comparing School Absence Policies for Periods

Issue Less Flexible Policy More Flexible Policy
Menstrual Leave Allowance None 1-2 days monthly with note
Accommodations Offered None Access to nurses office, deadline extensions
Doctor’s Note Needed Always Only for extended absences
Expected Attendance Every day unless hospitalized Stay home for acute, severe symptoms
Menstrual Education None Part of health curriculum


Menstruation can occasionally disrupt normal routines and activities for adolescents and women. But schools should not penalize students for a natural biological process. With reasonable accommodations, understanding, and access to care, menstruating students can stay healthy and academically on track.

Compassionate policies allow students to manage menstrual symptoms and attend class. Open communication, flexibility with deadlines, access to the nurse’s office, and free products create a period-friendly environment. While ongoing severe symptoms may require special accommodations, with proper treatment most can attend school regularly.

Rather than stigmatizing periods, schools should support students experiencing menstruation. Empowering young women to understand and care for their bodies leads to health and achievement long-term. Menstrual cycles are a normal part of human physiology – with the right support, periods don’t have to be an obstacle to education and opportunity.