The rumor that some schools are accommodating students who “identify as cats or furries” began spreading widely in 2022. Some Republican candidates running in the 2022 midterm elections even made reference to the rumor on the campaign trail.
VERIFY has received several questions asking if the rumor is true, including an email from Linda in which she said she hasn’t “been able to find info about this” despite hearing the rumor repeatedly.
Is there any evidence of schools putting litter boxes in classrooms to accommodate students who identify as cats or furries?
No, there’s no evidence of schools putting litter boxes in classrooms to accommodate students who identify as cats or furries.
WHAT WE FOUND
There is no evidence that any school in the United States has put kitty litter in classrooms or bathrooms to accommodate students identifying as a cat, “furry” or anything else non-human.
According to the rumor, one or more schools are allegedly putting litter boxes in classrooms or bathrooms for students who “identify as cats” to use. The rumor has been spread about various schools and school districts across the country. It’s usually shared in a transphobic context as a criticism of school policies allowing transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender.
Certain versions of the rumor sometimes refer to the cat-identifying students as “furries,” a group of people often associated with anthropomorphized animals. But a research group that studies furries says they have “never observed litter boxes” at any of the furry events they’ve attended.
VERIFY found two stories that may have fueled the rumor, but neither story was actually related to students identifying as cats using litter boxes. In one, a school district provided kitty litter to teachers for use in an emergency during a prolonged lockdown. In the other, students at a different school “acted like cats” and were reportedly disciplined for violating the school’s dress code.
While many schools and school districts addressed the rumors in statements or social media posts, the rumor has been so pervasive that some school districts just keep a page up on their website that directly denies the rumor, such as this one from Oregon and this one from North Dakota.
According to Google Trends data for “litter boxes in schools,” the rumor has been particularly widespread over the past two years, especially in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections. Searches for “litter boxes in schools” peaked in October 2022, the last month before election day in November.
How did the rumor start?
The earliest instance VERIFY could find of an American school or district addressing the rumor was in January 2022 when a Michigan school district said there have never been litter boxes in the district’s schools.
The first instance of any school or school district denying the rumor that VERIFY could find was in October 2021 when a school district in Canada said the claims that schools in its district were providing students identifying as cats with litter boxes were “simply false.” It said it had “fielded calls, been sent emails and been pointed to numerous social media posts” for several months by the time the district addressed the rumor.
The Canadian school district’s denial lines up with the Google Trends data; although there was little search interest in “litter boxes in schools” before late 2021, searches began rising in the last couple of months of that year.
In September 2021, a month before the Canadian district denied the rumor, a small, self-identified conservative news site reported the rumor that Iowa schools were using cat litter. This article is the earliest instance VERIFY could find of the rumor itself.
“A couple of weeks ago we received an email. It was about a rumor involving an Iowa school,” the Iowa Standard said. “Supposedly, a female student was identifying as a cat. And the school was allowing kitty litter to be placed in the classroom or bathroom — or both.”
The article then went on to report that the school district involved in the rumor, which it didn’t actually name, denied it.
What may have inspired the rumor?
Several years before the rumor spread, the Christian Post published an opinion piece titled “Should We Provide Litter Boxes for People Who Identify as Cats?” It was a column that claimed “if we don’t stop this downward slide” of recognizing, accommodating and supporting transgender people, “we might soon be required to provide litter boxes for people who identify as cats.”
More recently, a month before the rumor appeared on the Iowa news site, a Louisville-area TV station reported some students in a Kentucky high school were acting like and dressing up as cats. VERIFY could not find coverage of this incident by any other local news publication.
According to the reporting, the superintendent of the school district vaguely confirmed that a small number of students “violated the dress code policy” but that the dress code issues had been “addressed consistently.”
Separately, a Colorado school district first began giving teachers cat litter to use in prolonged school lockdowns, which is when classrooms lock their doors during a dangerous situation like a school shooting in October 2017, according to reporting from VERIFY sister station KUSA. A previous lockdown in the district lasted four and a half hours before ending, which forced some students and teachers to use classroom closets and trash cans as bathrooms.
The litter was part of an “Emergency Go bucket.” The litter would be spread across the bottom of an empty painter’s bucket, and it would come with a sheet students and teachers could use for privacy, KUSA reported.
In the same vein as the Christian Post opinion piece, the rumor is often spread as evidence that support for transgender students by schools has apparently gone too far.
Furries are a community of people who create anthropomorphized animal characters they can identify with, usually online, according to Furscience, a site run by a group of scientists from universities who are studying the furry fandom.
While furries might identify with animals, most do not literally identify as animals, according to Furscience. The small portion of furries that do believe themselves to in some way be an animal spiritually or mentally do not act like animals in public because of it.
In an article posted by the Conversation, a co-founder of Furscience, Sharon Roberts, Ph.D., says the research group has “never observed litter boxes at any of the dozens of furry conventions we’ve attended internationally.”