Ryan Walters, the Republican school superintendent candidate in Oklahoma who repeated an urban legend about schoolchildren identifying as cats and demanding to use kitty litter, won his race in a landslide.
Walters, a former state Teacher of the Year finalist from the eastern Oklahoma town of McAlester, beat Democrat Jena Nelson, who was the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, 57% to 43%.
In an interview with an Oklahoma City television station Wednesday, Walters said his priority would be to audit the state Education Department.
“There’s several items here that I have great concerns with. We have to make sure that our money is being used in the classroom, that it’s getting to our teachers, not being spent on administrative bloat,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure there’s no indoctrination in what we’re doing, our programs, the way our money is being spent.”
Only a few days before Tuesday’s election, an Oklahoma blog posted a video of Walters describing a “legitimate faculty meeting” during which he claimed school staff and faculty debated whether to provide cat litter for students who identified as cats.
During the lead-up to this fall’s elections, many Republican candidates referenced the idea that students are identifying as cats and demanding to use litter boxes instead of restrooms, but it was always related as a secondhand story with no evidence.
Various news outlets, including NBC, Reuters, The Associated Press and USA Today have debunked the claim that this is happening at schools. It’s unclear how this myth started, but there is speculation that it could have arisen from a Colorado school saying it included cat litter in its emergency kits.
It was unclear from Walters’ comments in the video whether he was claiming to have direct knowledge of such a meeting or if a former colleague he said he had talked to had told him about it. He didn’t mention a specific school or district.
“We have not.”
When asked if McAlester Public Schools, Walters’ former school district, had held such a meeting, Supt. Robert Steeber told HuffPost, “We have not.”
The 18,000-member Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s biggest teachers union, called Walters’ election “a devastating result.”
“There are real issues facing public education in our state. An educator shortage crisis, oversized classrooms, poverty, lack of counselors and mental health support, and access to resources all require prioritization over national partisan culture wars and voucher schemes that siphon money from public schools,” the group said.
“It is our hope that the newest representatives will remember every day that they serve all Oklahomans, not just some.”
Tuesday was a good night for the Oklahoma GOP, with many voters apparently voting straight party line. Republicans — including Gov. Kevin Stitt, who won by a surprisingly big margin over the current state school superintendent, Joy Hofmeister — were victorious in all of the top state elected offices.