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GOP legislator backtracks on claims students meow, bark, use litter boxes

Nebraska state Sen. Bruce Bostelman (R). (Nati Harnik/AP)
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During a televised debate over a Nebraska school funding bill on Monday, Republican state Sen. Bruce Bostelman brought up an issue he found particularly troubling: furries.

“Schoolchildren dress up as animals — cats or dogs — during the school day; they meow, and they bark,” he said. “And now schools are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for these children to use. How is this sanitary?”

But within hours of the debate, Bostelman backtracked and admitted the accusations were inaccurate.

“It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly,” Bostelman said, according to the Associated Press.

The senator did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment early Tuesday.

Bostelman is the latest Republican state leader to repeat discredited rumors of students identifying as “furries” and demanding cat litter at school. Furries are people who identify with or are interested in anthropomorphic or cartoon animals. People in the fandom often wear costumes and interact with their community online or at conventions.

In January, the co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party shared a Facebook post about a mother’s claim that at least one school put a litter box in a unisex bathroom for students who identify as cats. A Michigan superintendent responded to the post, emphatically debunking the claims. Similar rumors spread in Iowa last month on social media, forcing a superintendent in a small school district to send a letter to parents dispelling the gossip.

The rumor in Nebraska was mentioned last month in a Facebook group called Protect Nebraska Children, according to Jon Kipper, a reporter for KMTV. A parent asked about the litter boxes, noting that he was “not trying to propagate a rumor, I just want to know if it’s true, and I am praying it’s not.” Although a secretary for the school replied that it was not true, Kipper said, the speculation spread.

During his speech Monday, a clip of which was viewed more than 600,000 times on Twitter by early Tuesday, Bostelman repeated an unconfirmed story about a student. He said that someone told him the child, who identifies as a cat, defecated on the floor after the school refused to provide a litter box.

“Really,” Bostelman said. “School administrators, what is going on? Nebraska Department of Education, what is going on?”

Following his comments, Bostelman and Democratic state Sen. Lynne Walz contacted school districts asking about the litter boxes. The district leaders “assured none of that happened,” according to KMTV.

Representatives from three school districts told the Nebraska Examiner that Bostelman’s comments were false. Josh Fields, the superintendent of Seward Public Schools near Lincoln, called the comments “ridiculous.”

“It’s an ugly rumor,” Shawn Scott, the superintendent Adams Central Public Schools, added.