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.”