This week marked the start of classes in many Montana school districts.
The typical items seen on school supply lists for students included pencils, notebooks, and sometimes even some glue sticks.
But no municipality has a cat litter requirement.
Elsie Arntzen, superintendent of public instruction for Montana, has repeatedly made unfounded accusations that school districts there provide litterboxes for pupils who prefer them over toilets and regard themselves as cats.
Leaders in Montana’s public education have called the baseless accusation “nonsense” and an attempt to undermine the public school system.
These false claims are also a reflection of a bigger national narrative that has gone astray and verges on urban legend about schools installing litterboxes in toilets to satisfy picky students and parents. The rumour is linked to a more general discussion regarding gender, sexuality, and restrooms in schools.
However, the Republican from Billings and former state senator Arntzen doubled down on the rumour that litterboxes were provided by Montana school districts, according to an article in the Montana Free Press on Monday.
On the Voices of Montana radio programme on August 15, Arntzen stated that she wanted to discuss “litterboxes that some schools are putting out.”
She said that she had proof of litterboxes in Montana schools when radio talk show presenter Tom Schultz pressed her for further information. She added that the state’s Office of Public Instruction was investigating the matter.
We are, of course,” Arntzen added.
However, OPI representatives assured the Daily Montanan that they are not.
The deputy communications director at OPI, Anna Hoerner, responded that the office lacked the ability to investigate when pressed for specific proof of districts providing litterboxes.
Hoerner stated, “OPI has the power to examine allegations of instructor misconduct, but no actionable complaints have been received. Sanitation-related matters are within the control of local school boards, local boards of health, and the DPHHS, not OPI.
The Daily Montanan followed up with the office, asking about the breadth of any investigations the OPI had conducted and the reasoning for Arntzen’s claim that the district had proof.
Hoerner stated, “The Superintendent is adamant that complaints expressed to her or the organisation by Montana students, parents, teachers, administrators, and others should be respectfully evaluated and may constitute evidence.
Hoerner and the agency did not respond when asked for explanation on how the office distinguished between a parent worry and evidence. The Daily Montanan also questioned what responsibility the department or Arntzen played in disseminating false information.
Despite without directly answering the query, Hoerner stated, “The Superintendent believes the ongoing discussion is a distraction from the important mission of delivering a quality education to our students.”
Nevertheless, Hoerner claimed that Arntzen had heard about the issue from “multiple” persons across the state. Callers from Miles City and West Glacier both raised the issue during radio programmes.
Miles City Superintendent Meghan Brown responded via email, “Miles City Schools DO NOT PROVIDE litter boxes, and we have no plans to do so.”
The teacher-led West Glacier elementary school, which is close to Essex, was unavailable for comment because classes don’t start there until September 5.
Only one other “report” existed, and it was an anonymous one that the Office of Public Instruction chose not to name.
No, Schools Do Not Have LitterBoxes For Students
OPI further asserted that local school boards and the Department of Public Health and Human Services should be in charge of conducting the investigation rather than the department.
According to state law, local or county health departments must look into sanitation concerns and compliance, according to Jon Ebelt, a spokesman for the Montana DPHHS. He did, however, affirm that DPHHS had not heard of any complaints about litter bins in public schools.
The chief executive of the Montana School Board Association, Lance Melton, claimed that none of his members have ever been the subject of a complaint or investigation. He claimed that two years ago, when the rumour of litterboxes first began to circulate on social media and talk programmes, was the only item that even came close. At that time, a district administrator contacted us out of concern that the feline floorpans might need to be installed.
Melton firmly retorted this week that it wasn’t a fad, a demand, or even feasible.
Even if a school wanted to consider it, he claimed, adding litterboxes would be against all kinds of sanitary and architectural regulations. Melton asserted that despite Arntzen’s claim that her agency lacks the authority to look into charges involving litterboxes, even allowing them can violate a number of regulations, and breaking laws can result in educators losing their licences.
Both her office and her staff’ licences are under her supervision. She might be able to look into that, in my opinion,” he remarked. How can you even reply to something that aims to sow seeds of doubt and foster mistrust in the public school system?
Jeff Havens is a sanitarian licenced to practise in six states, including Montana. He has also taught science and instructed college lab students. He ridiculed the concept of having litter bins in schools, saying that it would be against all kinds of rules.
For instance, Havens emphasised that any school receiving hot lunches from the USDA on a federal level must have sufficient sanitary sewers. He claimed that cat litter did little to treat animal or human waste, just masking the odour.
Therefore, another method of handling the trash would be necessary.
He pondered, “Who would you get to do that?” “This is 2023, not 1823. And even back then, they had some knowledge of how to properly dispose of human excrement. This seems a lot like a falsehood that spread widely, similar to the allegedly stolen 2020 election.
The Daily Montanan also got in touch with the state’s biggest union, which is responsible for the majority of teachers in public schools. The Montana Federation of Public Employees asserted “emphatically” that not one of its members nor it has ever been made aware of a complaint being taken seriously in a Montana school.
Amanda Curtis, president of the MFPE, said, “While Elsie is out there spewing nonsense, Montana’s educators are welcoming students back to our public schools for another year of learning.” We also expect to see a new superintendent in 16 months who represents the best ideals of public education.
Viral Urban Legend
The argument against unisex restrooms or accommodations for transgender children is closely tied to the origin of the litterbox in schools issue.
In fact, Arntzen connected the two during a radio interview earlier this month, saying, “Let’s speak about boys in ladies’ bathrooms and that safety concern. Let’s talk about those “litterboxes” that some schools provide for students who desire to identify as animals.
According to the well-known website Snopes.com, which investigates urban legends and rumours, distinguishing fact from fiction, the litterbox fable is an attempt at a “slippery slope” argument, not unlike to other popular fear-mongering around cultural-war themes like homosexual marriage.
Numerous pages on the website are devoted to the enduring misconception surrounding school litterboxes. It claims that some of this stems from the “furries” subculture, which consists of individuals or students who dress up as animals or take on an online persona.
According to a researcher at Utah State University, the initial purpose of the litterbox fantasy may have been to ridicule those who were into furry culture and raise concerns about how far they may carry their animalistic tendencies. The idea, however, eventually evolved into a persistent rumour circulated by word of mouth about districts that went to tremendous measures to appease special interests.
The specific litterbox resurrection was traced by Snopes to a 2021 Midland, Michigan school board meeting, where a disgruntled resident brought up a rumour that a litterbox had been installed in a lavatory. The board and school administrators vehemently disputed it, and the woman has never offered proof. The rumour, however, was seized upon by state Republican Party members, which accounted for its reappearance and relocation from the realm of fantasy to school restrooms.