A report that a primary school sent a 10-year-old girl home because it lacked a suitable receptacle for her used sanitary products is surprising, the Ministry of Education says.
University of Otago medical school research fellow Dr Sarah Donovan told Nine to Noon she was contacted about the case by a GP, who was concerned the girl was only allowed back to school when her family donated an appropriate bin to the school for disposal of the products.
She said the girl had been menstruating for a few months now, but was still choosing to stay at home sometimes because of the stigma of having been excluded from school.
In a statement, ministry spokesperson Katrina Casey said if the incident had happened as reported it was not a very caring - or sensible - way for the school to respond.
"Most teachers and principals are very understanding of the health needs [of] their students and we are confident that most, if not all, when faced with a young girl beginning menstruation would simply organise a sanitary product disposal unit for the girls' toilets."
Whangaparaoa College student Melanie Wilcock recently organised a petition with a friend from school to ask the government to remove GST from sanitary products. She was appalled that a school would send a 10-year-old home for that reason, she said.
Everyone started menstruation at different ages and it was not fair that a natural process should affect a child's education, she said.
"I think she'd feel quite embarrassed, because some girls take it as 'I'm a woman now' and that sort of stuff, but if she's just been sent home for something she can't control - I mean I know it's not the school's fault and they were probably a bit shocked, but they should have dealt with it better."
Principals' Federation national president Whetu Cormick said he found it difficult to comprehend that a child would be excluded from school while they were menstruating.
At his own school, Bathgate Park in Dunedin, there were receptacles for girls to dispose of sanitary products and he was sure other schools would also have them, he said.
"Not only for the adult staff, but also for young women to be able to use them if required. This would not be an unusual situation for teachers to be having to deal with from Year 5 or 6 through to intermediate age. Definitely those schools would have processes in place to support the young women."
School Trustees Association head Lorraine Kerr said no school has ever contacted her about problems arising from a student beginning menstruation, and it was not satisfactory the girl's family had to pay for the bin for the school.
She said when a young girl began having periods at a primary school she was involved with, the situation was handled very easily.
"We just went down to the local dairy, got a supply of sanitary products, talked to her, explained to her, phoned her parents and suggested she use the staff toilets to take away the stigma."
The Ministry of Education said it did not keep data on the facilities provided in girls' toilets at primary schools.
Ms Casey said schools made their own decisions about what to make available, based on the needs of their students, and the majority did a very good job.