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Montana’s top education official says schools are letting kids use cat litterboxes

A kitten in a litterbox
Photo: Shutterstock

Montana’s top state education official, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen has claimed that schools in her state are making letterboxes available for students who self-identify as cats. She also claimed that the state’s Office of Public Instruction (OPI) is investigating the matter.

The only problem: neither is true.

In an August 15 interview on the Voices of Montana radio show, Arntzen said, “It’s imperative that we talk about these challenging issues. Let’s talk about boys in girls bathrooms and that safety issue. Let’s talk about those litter boxes that some schools are putting out for children who want to view themselves as some sort of an animal. Is this where public education should be? I say no.”

The Voices of Montana host Tom Schultz asked Arntzen if she had evidence of the letterboxes. She responded, “Yes sir.” When asked if the government was investigating the matter, she replied, “Of course we are.”

When the Montana Free Press called the OPI to ask about Arntzen’s claim, a liaison said that Arntzen’s “evidence” was nothing more than claims that state citizens had made to her in person and one report made to the OPI by a “rural Montana community member who requested to remain anonymous.”

“The reports were not investigated because no formal complaints were filed,” the liaison said, meaning that — contrary to Arntzen’s claims — OPI is not actually investigating the issue.

An OPI spokesperson told The Daily Montanan, “OPI does not have authority over sanitation issues, which rests with local school boards, local boards of health, and the DPHHS (Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services).” Jon Ebelt, a Montana DPHHS spokesman, said the DPHHS hasn’t received a single complaint about litterboxes in public schools.

In fact, Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association, said his organization hasn’t heard of “any instance whatsoever where any school district in the state has contemplated doing this.” He called the suggestion that schools are offering litterboxes for student use “just ludicrous.”

Amanda Curtis, president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, said, “While Elsie is out spouting nonsense, Montana’s educators are welcoming students back to our public schools for another year of learning. And in 16 months, we hope to see a new superintendent who embodies the highest ideas of public education.”

Various conservatives have repeated lies about schools recognizing “furries” as a gender identity, but fact-checkers and school districts have repeatedly disavowed such stories as hoaxes. In reality, such stories are meant to bias people against transgender individuals and against transgender-inclusive school policies, since they mock the idea of living as one’s authentic self and accommodating trans people’s gender identities. These stories have also led to threats against school officials, adding more to their stress and responsibilities.

The lie has since been repeated by numerous right-wing politicians, including media figures like Joe Rogan and Fox News.

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