Lambton school trustee candidate buys into urban myth of students “presenting as cats”

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Lambton-Kent District School Board Trustee Candidate Heather Skolly

Skolly perpetuates urban myth denounced by the director of education at Petrolia all candidates meeting

Heather Skolly wants to understand and support students who “are presenting as cats” in Lambton schools.

The candidate for the Central Lambton trustee of the Lambton-Kent District School Board is perpetuating an urban myth that has been making the rounds for well over a year.

In August 2021, a US NBC New affiliate in Kentucky reported a grandmother’s concern that students at a local school were presenting as cats at school, hissing and scratching people. “The students are told they can’t wear hats or Budweiser shirts in school, but they can wear cat ears, cat tails, masks, leashes. It doesn’t make sense,” the anonymous grandmother is quoted as saying in the article. The idea was dismissed by the head of the school district who said a small number of people violated the schools dress and were disciplined.

But, the story took hold on social media and last year, the director of education of a school board in Prince Edward Island issued a statement telling parents that the board was not about to put kitty litter boxes in the schools.

“I had a lot of concern about this because it was becoming a distraction to the learning and teaching at some of our schools,” said Norbert Bruce in an interview with the CBC in October 2021.

Carpenter told the CBC he believed the myth was “rooted in hate. It seemed to me like it was a backlash against some of the progressive things that our schools are doing, and we would have many that would say this is rooted in hate and transphobia and homophobia and that message needs to be clear, it’s not acceptable.”

At Tuesday’s board of education meeting, Lambton-Kent’s Director of Education John Howitt dispelled the rumour now making the rounds in Lambton after being asked if the board of education is supplying kitty litter to schools for the students presenting as cats.

The myth was again raised as a question at the Petrolia All-Candidates Meeting Wednesday night.

The current trustee – Greg Agar – who is running for re-election – flatly rejected the claim.

“That story is not true,” he said. “It’s a complete lie…no, it’s not true. It will not happen ever in this province. I guarantee you.”

Kathryn Shailer of Alvinston, who is also in the running for the trustee position, agreed.

“This has sort of been a rumor out there in the States and in some parts of Canada for more than a year and it has been shown to be untrue anytime it has been investigated,” Shailer told the crowd.

But Skolly – a retired educational assistant and union leader who recently moved from Oxford County to Petrolia – bought into the urban myth.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I did hear when I was out campaigning, that there are situations in our area that do have students who are presenting as cats, and they are in schools,” she told the crowd.

“I think first and foremost, we need to remember that these are children. And our goal is not to hurt or intentionally humiliate a child who in the situation. I think it’s important that we take a look at why the students doing this, is the students suffering from some situations that are happening at home? Is this behavioral issues? Is this that they are lonely and they’re looking for some sort of somebody to give them comments and support and negative support is a form of getting support.

“I think first as an EA when when we would find behaviors in the classroom, we would step back, take a look at what’s happening, assess what’s happening, and then maybe make some moves into having some help given into seeing what’s going on.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Having worked with a school board for 15 years, I can easily recall seeing students wearing different attire that supports their own dramatic identity.

    I think of the 3 students who wore movie level elf ears, other students who wore animal tails.

    Students seemingly enjoy being dramatic. There’s no real harm in dressing this way.

    This is better than some of the destructive behavior I have witnessed.

  2. Thank you Petrolia Lambton Independent, I appreciate your coverage of school board trustees in the above article.
    This was not the first meeting that this question had been voiced to the Central Lambton trustee candidates. Most of the 3 Central Lambton Trustees have spoke at 5 candidates meetings now.
    Thank you Dawson Currie, and Jen who also commented and shared knowledge on the Facebook or website post as well.
    I would like to clarify that I too researched about students presenting as animals in the classroom. I had at first found, through Reuters Fact Checker in the U.S. (where this apparently originated), that they had found no “evidence” of “furries” disrupting the classrooms.
    However, imagine my surprise as I was campaigning and talking to parents and public at my Brigden Fair booth and after a couple of the campaign meetings, that this WAS happening. The one parent said there was someone in their daughter’s class. I was quite surprised.
    My attempt at answering the question Wednesday evening at the Petrolia’s All Candidates meeting was to try to assure parents that when concerns like this happen, school board staff handle these types of situations, and any other challenging behaviours, professionally, discreetly and without demeaning or humiliating the student.
    In my past years as an EA, a student’s behaviour, especially if concerning, would be observed by staff to make sure it’s not harming behaviour. They would also try to see if this is possibly attention seeking, or is there something going on with mental health, or is this a student’s way of avoiding being called on by the teacher, or is it just a dramactic or personal way to make a statement. Running out of time at the candidates meeting to fully share my thoughts on the question, I will clarify here that my intent was to reassure parents that this behaviour is not to be “feared” but that we can put our trust in the professionals that work with the students.
    If elected as your trustee I will commit to being open and transparent, as long as not confidential, about situations that effect our schools.

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