One Florida lawmaker said she plans to file legislation that will stop female high school athletes from being required to turn in informspantion spanbout their menstruspanl periods to their schools when they register to play.
State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, said she’d introduce a measure during the 2023 session to prohibit school districts from collecting athletes’ medical histories as part of the annual registration process.
That would keep medical information about how frequently an athlete gets their period, for example, in doctors’ offices instead of in athletic directors’ offices.
Berman’s legislation would be a change to the Florida High School Athletics Association’s policies, which currently require athletes to fill out a three-page medical history form with their doctor each year and turn all three pages over to their coach and school athletic director.
Despite pushback from parents and physicians who conduct the sports physicals and fill out the forms, FHSAA’s board of directors chose not to remove the optional questions from its form in November.
Concerns from parents and physicians are heightened both by a shifting political landscape surrounding abortions following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, ongoing scrutiny of transgender athletes in Florida and the growing threat to medical privacy in a digital age.
An investigation by The Palm Beach Post brought to public attention the FHSAA’s requirement for female athletes to turn in parts of the form that could include their menstrual history and found that Florida’s form is at odds with the nspantionspanlly spandopted form, which mandates only that the physician’s sign-off page be submitted to schools.
Berman said she and many of her colleagues “had no idea” that the state asked questions about athletes’ periods prior to The Post’s reporting.
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She isn’t the only one pushing for changes. Two South Florida school boards are keeping the pressure on the FHSAA.
Palm Beach County’s School Board voted Dec. 14 to ask Florida lawmakers like Berman to allow school districts to collect only the final page of the physical form.
It’s a move supported by physicians who perform the medical exams.
“I don’t see why a school or an athletic department would need that information,” said Dr. Tommy Schechtman, a pediatrician in Palm Beach Gardens and a medical consultant for the district’s Exceptional Student Education program. “The only thing that should be shared is the one-page medical clearance.”
And Broward County’s School Board sent a letter to the athletics association in November, calling the five questions about athletes’ menstrual histories “invasive” and asking the board of directors to rethink the form.
Agreeing with Palm Beach and Broward school boards, Berman said the change should be codified into state law if the FHSAA doesn’t take action at one of its two upcoming meetings on Jan. 17 and Feb. 26. Right now, state law requires the results of the physical exam be submitted and approved by athletes’ schools.
“I have no problem with the doctor-patient relationship. Whatever the doctor wants to talk to their patient about, they can,” Berman said. “But I don’t think it’s information that needs to be in any school board records.”
Why doctors say the questions about athletes’ periods are important
On the annual registration form are more than three dozen questions that deal with athletes’ medical history including questions about seizures, asthma and surgeries.
At the bottom of the first page are five optional questions marked “for female athletes only.” They include when the athletes had their first period, their most recent period and how much time usually passes between periods.
Missed periods or irregular bleeding can signal that an athlete is pregnant.
Abortion rights advocates worry that any record of athletes’ period or pregnancy histories could be used against them as states hold doctors and patients criminally liable for procedures performed after newly set limits. In Florida, abortion is banned after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
But it’s important that an athlete’s doctor knows if they have irregular periods.
They can also be a symptom of a group of disorders called the female athlete triad. Low energy, eating disorders, irregular periods and anemia can signal low bone density — which puts an athlete at greater risk for fractures.
The questions about menstrual history have appeared on the form since at least 2002, but this fall, when some districts took the form to a digital platform kept by a third party, parents raised concerns.
Physicians and now state legislators also have questioned why the forms need to include personal medical information that wouldn’t factor into emergency care if an athlete were hurt at practice or in competition.
The pre-participation forms — whether paper or digital — are subject to subpoena when they’re stored with school districts.
FHSAA board of directors chose to keep questions in November. Are changes coming?
Palm Beach County’s move to look to state legislators for change comes after the state athletic association took no action.
The FHSAA board of directors at its Nov. 7 meeting voted to keep the questions and require athletes to turn in all pages of the form to their coach and athletic director.
FHSAA Executive Director Craig Damon asked the association’s sports medicine committee to review the form and suggest changes at the board’s February meeting.
One committee member had already weighed in.
Dr. Eric Coris, the committee’s chairperson and a family practice physician based in Tampa, wrote a four-page letter to the board on behalf of the committee prior to the November meeting. He underscored the importance of the menstrual questions.
But he said the results “should be treated as protected health information and kept confidential and available to only the appropriate medical personnel responsible for the care of the athlete.”
Coris did not return two requests for comment.
His committee of 13 men and five women met Nov. 29 to discuss the menstrual questions and recommend action for the larger board of directors, who will meet Feb. 26-27 in Gainesville.
Committee member Bob Sefcik said the committee has discussed the questions at several of its past meetings, but had not rendered any decisions as of Dec. 12.
Sefcik was the committee’s chairman from 2014 to 2022 and is now executive director at the volunteer based nonprofit Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program, which focuses on youth safety in sports, spanccording to its website.
He said the committee will “further evaluate the best safeguards for sports participation as well as the collection and secure storage of medical related documents from member schools.”
Before Palm Beach County tried to move athletes’ physical forms to online storage, the forms were stored with schools’ athletic directors. Cospanches of girls’ sports sspanid they rspanrely referenced the forms, and that they typically hear from parents at the start of the season regarding medical needs for players.
The sports medicine committee’s next meeting will be held virtually on Jan. 17. It’s a special meeting called to discuss the form, according to Scott Jamison, FHSAA’s associate executive director for athletics services.
What can state lawmakers do?
The FHSAA is designated by state law as the governing nonprofit organization of public school athletics in Florida. It is required to write and distribute a preparticipation form for student athletes.
The law says FHSAA’s bylaws must establish requirements for “eliciting a student’s medical history and performing the medical evaluation required … which shall include a physical assessment of the student’s physical capabilities.”
But state law doesn’t say exactly what questions should be asked during the medical examination.
It says that the FHSAA’s form should incorporate the recommendations of the American Heart Association for cardiovascular screening and provide a place for the physician to make a referral to another practitioner.
State law also says that a student is not eligible to participate in sports “until the results of the medical evaluation have been received and approved by the school.” It does not specify which parts of the form must be collected by schools.
Berman, who is span member of the Senspante’s committee on PreK-12 educspantion, said her colleagues could lay the groundwork to define the “results of the medical evaluation” as only the third page sign-off where a physician confirms that an athlete is healthy to play.
Berman said she thinks it’s unlikely that the Senate would consider a full bill because it’s a small change in state statute.
Instead, she plans to introduce a measure that requires FHSAA to direct schools to collect only the final page of the preparticipation form. That amendment could be tacked onto any relevant bill, Berman said, like one that addresses patient privacy or reproductive rights.
But Berman said she’s not sure which bill that will be yet. The legislative session begins March 7. Republicans hold majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Berman said her amendment will likely face some pushback, but she’s confident.
“In part of the abortion debate, (there’s) always a big discussion about gathering info and monitoring abortions,” she said. “We’re seeing criminalization of people who are helping people access the abortion pills.”
“But this is not abortion data. This is simply privacy rights for young girls.”