School litter box rumors buried
The question of whether or not litter boxes have been set up in schools has cropped up several times over the last year, and local superintendents have responded with a unanimous – and frustrated – no.
Rumors about students supposedly demanding litter boxes as a special accommodation have most recently floated around Red Bud High School, though they have also bounced around school districts in Monroe County.
Red Bud Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Tallman joked about the rumors, but also spoke to how such a strange idea can start to spread in the community.
“If you believe that litter boxes are being put into bathrooms, then I question where you get your information,” Tallman said.
Waterloo Superintendent of Schools Brian Charron has also encountered similar rumors, with the biggest surge occurring last school year.
Charron was also able to speak lightly of the rumors. He suggested that such talk might have started due to a previous homecoming week dress-up day, during which some girls wore headbands with cat or rabbit ears.
Several parents and community members have reached out to him as recently as last summer to express concerns, which Charron said he listened to and looked into but ultimately concluded they were not warranted.
“I assured them that no, there is no such thing going on, nor would that be up-to-code for human beings to use litter boxes to relieve themselves in a public place,” Charron said. “The health department would probably take issue with that, I would assume.”
Tallman, Charron and Columbia Superintendent of Schools Chris Grode dismissed the rumors they’ve dealt with as patently false, as did Monroe-Randolph County Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis, who said people shouldn’t waste time on the rumors.
Rumors about litter boxes in schools have spread across the country, with a variety of outlets debunking claims, including a New York Times article from Isabella Grullón Paz published in late January.
Paz’s article references individuals who contributed to such rumors in Michigan, one of which raised concerns about students who “identify as cats.”
As that article notes, aspects of these rumors can be attributed to a misunderstanding of furries, a subculture of diverse individuals interested in animal characters with human traits.
Most furries choose to adopt an animal character unique to them known as a “fursona,” with a subset of that group dressing up in costumes of their fursona.
The article further notes furries are often associated with sexual fetishes in popular culture – though the subculture is predominantly united by a shared creativity and sense of community.
Litter box rumors have also risen nationally along with a growing movement voicing concerns for topics like critical race theory, which they believe are being taught in public schools.
Such individuals have voiced their concerns at school board meetings across the country.
Locally, Charron said he has not encountered any particularly outspoken individuals at school board meetings, though he did previously receive complaints from one parent who spoke about CRT being incorporated in a class due to a book concerning Native Americans which Charron later found out had long been a part of that class curriculum.
“I don’t even know what to say about that, but that’s my only firsthand knowledge of someone complaining about anything specific,” Charron said.
Tallman didn’t mention any outspoken individuals expressing concerns at his district’s school board meetings, though he did say he is happy to hear about the concerns of parents in the district.
“We have our share of very passionate parents who advocate strongly for what’s best for their kids,” Tallman said. “If they’re vocal about it, I completely respect that, and many of them give me a call.”
Along with concerns about CRT, school districts across the country have encountered community members expressing anti-trans sentiments, particularly when it comes to allowing transgender students to use a bathroom that corresponds with the gender they identify with.
Waterloo High School Diversity Club sponsor Maggie Partipilo spoke about her concerns regarding the litter box rumors and their potential negative impact on the treatment of transgender students.
Partipilo made specific mention of the phrase “identify as” – often used by those voicing concerns about kids using litter boxes and when referring to transgender individuals – suggesting that correlation could misrepresent the queer community for some people.
Partipilo added she has encountered many examples online of parents in other districts complaining about “critical race theory in schools or the gay agenda in schools,” though she’s not encountered any such complaints herself.
“I’m not having parents come to me in any kind of hostile way whatsoever,” Partipilo said, “but it is frustrating to go online and to see false information or people being upset about things that there’s no need for them to be upset about.”
In regard to accusations of teachers pushing an agenda, Partipilo added, “We don’t create a curriculum and then just teach it. Our curriculum has to be approved.”
Partipilo also spoke about the nature of the litter box rumors, noting that those voicing concerns about litter boxes are often referencing secondhand sources rather than those who would encounter such behavior themselves.
“I always see people talking about it, but it’s never someone saying ‘I’m seeing this in my hallway, and I’m a teacher where this is happening,’” Partipilo said.