LAKEWOOD, Colo. — A Colorado school district in the wealthy western suburbs of Denver gave a blanket statement to the local press dismissing parental concerns about an issue that’s galvanized the state’s contest for governor.
In September, Heidi Ganahl, the Republican candidate for governor, gave an interview to a local radio host in which she described a new phenomenon hitting Colorado classrooms.
“Not many people know that we have ‘furries’ in Colorado schools,” Ganahl told 710KNUS. “Have you heard about this? Yeah, kids identifying as cats. It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it’s happening all over Colorado and the schools are tolerating it.”
Without any evidence, either from school officials or interviews with parents, the left-wing Colorado Times Recorder wrote off the comments as a conspiracy.
“Ganahl Falsely Claims that Kids Are ‘Identifying as Cats … All Over Colorado & Schools Are Tolerating It,” headlined the article from Heidi Beedle.
The article was picked up by Democrats and the press, both local and national, amplifying Ganahl’s remarks as evidence of a supposed extremist fabricating tales while running for the governor’s mansion. While Ganahl never said anything about “litter boxes,” Beedle connected the remarks to GOP claims in other states that students go as far as to demand these boxes be available at school.
“The outrage over students who are part of niche subculture that embraces anthropomorphic art and cosplay — and is predominantly LGBTQ,” Beedle wrote, “stems from remarks made by Nebraska Sen. Bruce Bostelman, a conservative Republican, who repeated false claims about furries using litter boxes in schools.”
Beedle linked “niche subculture” to another article she wrote in the Colorado Springs Independent. It outlines how individuals, including children, are increasingly dressing up in costumes and acting like animals to create “fursonas,” vindicating Ganahl’s claims.
Jefferson Schools Jump in with False Statement
The controversy made its way to the Jefferson County School District in the western suburbs of Denver. On Sept. 30, four days after Beedle’s story ran, a local Fox affiliate published an article claiming to discredit Ganahl’s remarks.
“School district disputes Ganahl’s claim about students identifying as furries,” headlined Fox31 News, which included a blanket statement from the administration insisting Ganahl was a liar.
“There is absolutely no truth to this claim. There are no litter boxes in our buildings and students are not allowed to come to school in costume,” the district’s statement said, despite Ganahl making no reference to “litter boxes.” “There are no furries or students identifying as such during the school day.”
The statement was made despite emails pouring into the district from concerned parents raising the issue as a classroom disruption as early as March of this year.
“This is an unsettling situation to many parents and students,” wrote one parent demanding clarification from district Superintendent Tracy Dorland about what was happening in the classroom this spring.
The parental rights group Jeffco Kids First shared with The Federalist a trove of the district’s internal emails obtained through Colorado Open Records Act requests. Shortly after district leaders categorically wrote off the presence of “furries” among the student body in an attempt to brand the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidate as a liar, administrators received a cascade of complaints from distressed parents whose concerns were dismissed.
“I highly suggest you speak to students at any Jeffco middle or high school for their accounts and see this is a true issue,” one parent wrote. “I find it absurd that kids can’t wear baseball hats in school, girls are limited to the length of their shirts … yet there are students wearing animal ears, meowing and barking at other kids, and being a constant distraction to other students.”
In an email to district cabinet leaders on Oct. 2, Dorland railed against parents’ requests for transparency through open records as bordering “on harassment.”
“Dear Board Members,” Dorland wrote. “District leaders are receiving emails from [REDACTED] claiming that the district made a false statement to Fox31. To provide clarity for your information, the district responded to a specific question from Fox31 about two specific schools and we stand by the accuracy of that response.”
A look at the question presented by Fox31, which was revealed in the records request, shows that contrary to Dorland’s claims, the Fox31 question did not mention “two specific schools.”
“Today during the pre-taping of our political show, Colorado Point of View, the republican candidate for Governor Heidi Ganahl said she’d gotten several tips from parents in the JeffCo school district that there are students who ‘identify as furries’ and wear furry costumes in class,” wrote Fox31’s Jennifer Brockman to the district. “I’m wondering if you can confirm this?”
Dorland’s Oct. 2 email falsely depicting the Fox31 inquiry to district leaders was followed by a response from school board member Susan Miller, according to the emails parents obtained.
“Context matters, because we have received numerous emails from parents that state their child is experiencing this disruptive behavior,” Miller wrote. “I have had parents show me pictures their children have taken of ‘furries’ at their school.”
On Wednesday, a group of parents who met at a local coffee shop presented pictures of students dressed up as animals in local schools to The Federalist. The images were shared on the condition they not be published to protect the privacy of minors.
“The word ‘furries’ is what the kids call them, which is why parents call them that,” explained Lindsay Datko, a co-founder of Jeffco Kids First.
Dorland’s blanket statement to the local press at the height of a gubernatorial campaign came more than a month after the classroom costumes became so disruptive that administrators at Drake Middle School were compelled to update their dress code. An Aug. 22 email shows district leaders acknowledging the issue throughout the school system.
“We have all received the emails about the furries in schools and Drake’s decision to ban them,” wrote Chief of Schools David Weiss to the deputy superintendent, adding, “these challenges should be addressed at the lowest level.”
A spokesman for the district dismissed the costumes as a disruption in a statement to The Federalist.
“Our principals work with their staff to follow district policy around appropriate dress code. If clothing is disruptive, district policy gives principals the power to place restrictions on it, this would include students dressing in costume,” the district said. “We respectfully decline to comment any further on this issue.”
A Recurring Pattern
The four parents who met with The Federalist in a suburban coffee shop at the foothills of Colorado’s front range say their district’s refusal even to acknowledge their concerns is just the latest episode of a long pattern of school district misconduct.
After scientifically unsound Covid protocols interrupted more than a year of their children’s educational, social, and physical development, the district has become even more emblematic of the left-wing activism sweeping classrooms than it was before. In July, one teacher was sent to “re-education training” for refusing a student’s request to use a different set of pronouns when not in the presence of the student’s parents.
At the start of the school year, students were assigned a survey, shared with The Federalist, that asked them to state their pronouns. The questionnaire presented four sets of options, including “they/them” and “ze/hir.” On the form, administrators also asked students twice whether their so-called preferred pronouns could be used with their parents.
Federal regulations mandate that parents be given the opportunity to opt their children out of such surveys. Elizabeth Armstrong said she was never given the option and felt “triangulated” by the district.
“They can’t make it so I’m excluded from parenting my kids,” Armstrong said, fuming over a district that refused even to let parents in the building for the last two years.
None of the women who gathered on Wednesday revealed who they would be voting for in November, and some weren’t even Republicans. But Gov. Jared Polis ending Tuesday night’s debate with a dig a Ganahl as a “mad mom” is unlikely to help the Democrat among parents. Ganahl embraced the title.
“I am a mad mom,” Ganahl said, outlining a list of political grievances plaguing Colorado families, from falling test scores to inflation and fentanyl. “I have a right to be angry, and I represent a lot of parents.”
Reporting by The Federalist.