It started with a comment at a school board meeting, which was later amplified by a Michigan state Republican leader, and culminated with a school superintendent explaining that, no, there were no litter boxes on school grounds for students to use if they identified as furries.
“It is unconscionable that this afternoon I am sending this communication,” the superintendent of Midland Public Schools, Michael Sharrow, wrote on Thursday in an email to parents that was also shared on Facebook. “However, our Midland PS stakeholders may be confused about a false message/accusation that has resurfaced this week and is gaining traction in the social media realm.”
The rumor that furries — people who have an interest in anthropomorphic animal characters and sometimes dress up as them — used litter boxes in the school district, which is about two hours northwest of Detroit, appears to have started at a school board session last month, based on a video of the meeting.
A member of the public who spoke at the meeting, Lisa Hansen, says in the video that she was informed by someone the day before the meeting that litter boxes had been added to the “unisex bathrooms” for students who “identify as cats.”
“I was stunned,” Ms. Hansen says in the video. “And today I am equally stunned and a little bit upset — well, not a little bit, a lot of bit upset. Furious — I would even use that word.”
Ms. Hansen says in the video that there is an “agenda that is being pushed through our schools is — just my opinion — but somewhat nefarious when it comes to some of the activities.”
She goes on to say that this is a “nationwide” issue, adding, “I’m all for creativity and imagination, but when someone lives in a fantasy world and expects other people to go along with it, I have a problem with that.”
Ms. Hansen, who could not be reached on Saturday, also says in the video that she plans to do more “investigation” into the issue.
The school board members at the meeting did not respond to Ms. Hansen’s comments, but her remarks gained traction after Meshawn Maddock, a chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, shared a video of the school board meeting and the comments on Facebook on Thursday.
“Kids who identify as ‘furries’ get a litter box in the school bathroom,” Ms. Maddock wrote in a Facebook post sharing the video of the board meeting. “Parent heroes will TAKE BACK our schools.”
In his statement, Mr. Sharrow debunked the rumor as categorically false.
“Let me be clear in this communication,” he wrote. “There is no truth whatsoever to this false statement/accusation! There have never been litter boxes within MPS schools.”
Mr. Sharrow did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday. The Michigan Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday, and Ms. Maddock could not be reached.
According to Furscience, a website run by a multidisciplinary team of scientists studying furry fandom, “furry describes a diverse community of fans, artists, writers, gamers, and role players.”
“Most furries create for themselves an anthropomorphized animal character (fursona) with whom they identify and can function as an avatar within the community,” the website says.
In mass media, furries are usually associated with sexual fetishes, the website says, but “the most-cited draw to the furry fandom is its sense of belongingness, recreation, and escape from the mundaneness of daily life.”
Sharon E. Roberts, an associate professor of social development studies at the University of Waterloo in Canada and a founder of Furscience, said in an email on Saturday that she could not comment specifically about the Michigan school because she was not familiar with the situation.
She added, though, that “there is evidence of significant misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the furry fandom leading to claims like this (and worse).”
Mr. Sharrow, the superintendent, citing a backdrop of “this divisive/contentious world in which we currently find ourselves,” urged parents to contact him if rumors like this surfaced again.
“It is such a source of disappointment that I felt the necessity to communicate this message to you,” he wrote.