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Scott Jensen repeats debunked claim about litter boxes in schools

When asked to provide evidence to substantiate claims that schools were providing litter boxes for students to use, Jensen's campaign responded "no comment."

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn — Republican candidate for Minnesota governor Dr. Scott Jensen recently repeated a false claim that schools are allowing children to use litter boxes instead of bathrooms if they identify as "furry."

Jensen made the comments while speaking at a campaign event in September.

In video posted on Facebook, Jensen asked the crowd, "What are we doing to our kids? Why are we telling elementary kids that they get to choose their gender this week?"

"Why do we have litter boxes in some of the school districts so kids can pee in them, because they identify as a furry? We’ve lost our minds. We’ve lost our minds," he said.

KARE 11 reached out to Jensen's campaign to ask if his claims were based on evidence, and if so, could he provide evidence that schools are providing litter boxes for children to use instead of bathrooms. His campaign responded, "no comment" to both questions.

The term "furry" is often used to describe a community of "fans, artists, writers, gamers, and role players" who roleplay or identify as anthropomorphized animal characters.

Several Minnesota school districts, including a representative for Mankato Area Public Schools, confirmed to KARE 11 that children have not been given litter boxes to use. "Litterboxgate is, in fact, complete nonsense," Superintendent Paul Peterson said in a statement.

In a statement, Education Minnesota called the claims a "bizarre internet hoax" that "appears to be an attempt to discredit school policies intended to make schools safe and welcoming for students."

Minnesota Dept. of Education spokesperson Kevin Burns told KARE there aren't any public schools in Minnesota that provide litter boxes in restrooms. School districts don't track the number of children who engage in the "furry" subculture, which involves taking on the persona of an anthropomorphic animal.

The unsubstantiated rumors have popped up in school districts across the country, including Michigan, Colorado and Nebraska.

Calls for apology

At a State Capitol press conference Wednesday, several teachers and school board members called on Jensen to apologize for recycling the unproven claim at a political rally.

"These conspiracies are insulting, and they undermine the real work that we educators do every day," Virginia Mancini, who serves on the St. Louis Park School Board and is a middle school English teacher in a different district, told reporters.

"The educators I know understand the learning that is best for students is when they can show up as their full self."

The press conference was hosted by the DFL state party, which has also called out Jensen for his proposals to use taxpayer dollars for private school scholarships and convert failing public schools into private ones.

"There are no litter boxes in schools! It’s simply not true!" Lisa Olson, who heads the Elk River Education Association, which is the teachers' union for the Elk River Public Schools, told reporters.

"We know this misinformation that Scott Jensen is spewing is false and hurts our students and our schools."

St. Paul School Board member Halla Henderson and Robbinsdale School Board member Mike Herring also vouched for the fact that their districts don't provide litter boxes. They called it a distraction to have to bat down unfounded social media rumors.

"We shouldn’t have to stand up here and say that our students deserve to feel safe and affirmed in our classrooms," Henderson remarked. "Instead, we are. We’re up here debating and talking about baseless claims that are harmful."

Origins of rumor

It began at a Midland, Michigan school board meeting in December of 2021 when a parent named Lisa Hansen said she felt compelled to raise the "furries" issue, saying she had heard stories that at least one local school provided litter boxes for children who identify as cats.

She was unable to provide any proof, and the Midland School District emphatically denounced it as untrue. But the head of the Michigan Republican Party posted the clip of Hansen's speech to social media.  It spread like wildfire through conservative social media feeds.

It was debunked by several national news organizations. And yet, on April 27 of this year the litter box hoax landed in the middle of an education debate in the Minnesota House.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski was walking through his objections to a middle school student survey that included questions about gender. He said he'd heard from several fellow Republicans about the litter boxes.

"They think they’re a cat. A cat. They put tails on, and they demand that they have a litter box at school."  

The Mazeppa Republican could not say where this is happening. Fellow Republican Eric Lucero of Dayton joined in, also without specific locations, saying that he'd heard some of the cat students would scream if a student sat on their imaginary tail.

In response, during the same debate, Minneapolis Democrat Jim Davnie called for Drazkowski and Lucero to apologize.

"You need to stand up here and apologize for your using this platform to spew misinformation and denigrating children in the process."

Davnie pointed out that a Nebraska Sen. Bruce Bostelman, a conservative Republican, had just issued a public apology for repeating the false claim during a televised debate in that state's unicameral legislature.

For Jensen, the litter box story fits into his broader campaign theme that children are being exposed to information about gender and sexuality when they're too young.  He says students are being "hypersexualized" in school, and that public schools should focus on "education, not indoctrination."

Educators say those who are promoting the litter box rumor are seeking to trivialize the struggles of LGBTQ students at a time they're especially vulnerable.

Mancini, the St. Louis Park School Board member, said the state's anti-bullying law requires teachers to provide a safe space for all children.

"When you are making an inclusive space for all students to bring their full selves to school, you are following statute. And state statute says we need to create a safe and secure school for all of our students," Mancini asserted.

"That is not indoctrination. That is us doing what we are responsible to do."

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