Senior schools official spreads debunked myths about children using cat litter boxes as toilets

Elsie Arntzen

Montana’s top state education official has claimed that schools are making litter boxes available for students who self-identify as cats.

Elsie Arntzen, the superintendent of public instruction of Montana, waded into the toxic discussion around so-called culture war issues in public schools during an interview on the Voices of Montana radio show.

Arntzen said it was “imperative” to talk about “challenging issues” facing kids before repeating the debunked right-wing myth that school districts provide litter boxes for some pupils to use as toilets.

Rumours about schoolchildren using litter boxes are believed to have emerged after some Colorado school teachers requested buckets filled with cat litter for classrooms in anticipation of a school shooting.

“Let’s talk about boys in girls’ bathrooms and that safety issue,” Arntzen said. “Let’s talk about those litter boxes that some schools are putting out for children who want to view themselves as some sort of an animal. 

“Is this where public education should be? I say no.” 

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She then claimed there was evidence of litter boxes being used in Montana schools and that her office was looking into it. 

However, the Montana Free Press asked Lance Melton, the chief executive of the Montana School Boards Association, if his organisation was aware of any such instances. 

‘It’s just ludicrous’

He said the association takes “in excess of 7,000 calls” each year from districts asking for legal advice, but he could only recall one mention of litter boxes – and that was two years ago.

When asked if any school districts in Montana currently provide litter boxes, he answered: “It’s just ludicrous.”

Office of Public Instruction (OPI) liaison Tara Boulanger said Arntzen’s statements were based on claims made to her citizens during radio interviews and other community forums in December, and a report to the office by a “rural Montana community member” who requested anonymity. 

Boulanger added that any reports were “not investigated because no formal complaints were filed”. 

Anna Hoerner, OPI’s deputy communications director, told the Daily Montanan that the superintendent has a “firm belief [that] concerns brought to her” or the agency by citizens “should be respectfully considered and may constitute evidence”.

The claim has taken on a life of its own on social media and among a growing number of Republicans, political commentators and right-wing pundits as part of the ongoing culture war over gender identity and LGBTQ+ issues in schools. 

Despite there being no evidence of such cases occurring, some politicians have picked up the claims, alleging this is where protection for LGBTQ+ students will, or already has, led. 

Last September, two Republican state lawmakers in Tennessee discussed the “growing crisis” of public schools providing litter boxes for children who identify as cats, and claimed it’s happening across the state.

Scott Jensen, the Republican nominee to be governor of Minnesota in the 2022 election, repeated the bizarre claim while speaking to his supporters. He lost to incumbent Democrat Tim Walz.