A man who wants to run Oklahoma’s school system has pushed a claim about liberals supposedly installing litter boxes in schools to accommodate students who identify as cats, even though it’s been debunked as a myth.
Republican Ryan Walters’ comments appeared in a video posted by The Lost Ogle, an Oklahoma blog. The site said Walters was “talking to a group of fellow right-wing voters earlier this month at a meeting in Stillwater.”
“I got a call over the weekend from a former colleague and he said, ‘Ryan, I’m telling you right now...’” Walters said, before his voice trailed off a bit.
”Have you heard about the litter boxes stuff?” he then asked the audience.
“This was a legitimate faculty meeting where the counselors and administrators were talking to the staff ― are you ready? ― about whether they should allow litter boxes in the bathrooms for kids that identify as cats,” he said. An unseen audience member can be heard among the audible reactions saying, “Oh my God.”
Walters then finished up the anecdote by returning to his former colleague’s reaction.
“And my buddy said, ‘Hey, I’m just going to tell you, I’m not teaching anymore if that happens. Like, I love teaching, it’s my passion, but I’m out of here. Like that is such a sense of, like, nonsense, I can’t pretend that that’s right. I’m out of here,’” Walters said.
“That is not an issue at McAlester Public Schools.”
The idea that school children are identifying as cats and demanding to be allowed to use cat litter instead of toilets has been debunked repeatedly as essentially an urban legend. Nonetheless, it has been repeated by several Republican candidates for office at various levels. Even podcaster Joe Rogan said he had heard the same thing, before recently taking it back.
An analysis by NBC News looked at 20 of those reports, and the districts named either told the outlet or stated publicly that no such incidents had occurred. Reuters, The Associated Press and USA Today have also debunked the idea.
While it was not clear if Walters was saying someone he knew had seen or attended such a meeting or that he had, the candidate presented it as a real thing to the audience in the video.
Emails to a Walters campaign website and to his official email at his secretary of education post ― an appointed position as part of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s cabinet ― were not answered.
The video also left it unclear where Walters’ “former colleague” worked, but Walters taught for eight years at McAlester High School, according to his campaign bio. There he was a finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year in 2016.
Asked if McAlester had held such a meeting like that or one that could have been construed in that manner, the district superintendent, Dr. Robert Steeber, told HuffPost, “We have not.”
“That is not an issue at McAlester Public Schools,” he said.
After narrowly winning the Republican nomination to replace current state superintendent Joy Hofmeister, Walters has been locked in a closer-than-expected fight with Democrat Jena Nelson, the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, for the superintendent slot.
While Walters’ current appointed post gives him responsibility for various education-related boards and commissions, the superintendent in Oklahoma heads up the state Department of Education.
The closeness of the race may be a reflection of Hofmeister’s efforts to rally teachers in her race for governor, as well as concerns by some about Walters, who lists critical race theory and teacher salaries as issues on his website, but also features abortion, gun rights and immigration.
Walters is by no means the first Republican candidate to make the false claim about cat litter ― Don Bolduc, the GOP candidate for Senate in New Hampshire, also made the claim ― but he may be one of the first candidates running for a statewide education-related office to do so.
At McAlester, he taught Advanced Placement classes in world history, U.S. history and U.S. government.
“Guys,” Walters added to the crowd, “if we don’t push back on the craziness, it’s not going to end.”