A bill working through the Indiana Senate would reiterate that schools are allowed to enforce dress codes and curb disruptive behavior to address concerns about students identifying as furries.
It follows a nationwide wave of claims – none proven – that students are dressing and acting like animals in classrooms.
Indiana Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, authored Senate Bill 380. The “various education matters” bill makes changes to how the state calculates high school graduation rates and then also includes this line: “a school corporation may adopt a policy concerning student dress code or disruptive behavior.” When introducing the bill in the Senate’s education committee, which Raatz chairs, he said it was to address concerns about students who "may be imitating or were behaving like a furry.”
“Essentially, what this signals to school corporations is that through the dress code you have the ability to drive how students dress,” he said.
Cat litter boxes in schools? Tony Dungy apologizes for tweet that sparked outrage and backlash
Parents and school employees brought the complaints to him, Raatz said, declining to name their districts or schools in an interview with IndyStar. The bill does not require schools to make changes, he said, but reinforces the idea that they can.
School corporations already have the right to create and enforce a dress code, as many do. Raatz said this line was added to a different section of code – that governing the duty and powers of school corporations to supervise and discipline students – and the wording slightly different from the section of law that already allows schools to implement dress codes.
Stay in the conversation on politics: Sign up for the OnPolitics newsletter
Indiana schools say it's not an issue
IndyStar hasn't been able to find evidence of an Indiana school district actually reporting that students are dressing as animals. An online search turned up no verified reports of furries in schools here, nor did requests sent to several districts. Representatives of Westfield Washington Schools and the districts in South Bend, Fort Wayne, Lawrence Township and Wayne Township said it has not been a problem in their classrooms.
“We are not aware of any students dressing as furries or animals during the school day in the M.S.D. of Wayne Township,” said Jeff Butts, that district's superintendent.
Hamilton Southeastern Schools said the biggest issue they've dealt with around "furries" is the time it takes to combat untrue rumors.
"We have not had disruptions that I am aware of with students acting out as 'furries,'" said Emily Pace Abbotts, HSE spokesperson. "This overall issue, I believe stemmed from national media, which also spread that schools had litter boxes in their restrooms. This is not true for Hamilton Southeastern Schools – and is worrisome that people would believe such."
The district already has a dress code in its student handbooks to limit “clothing distractions.”
Kim Patterson, a middle school teacher in rural Howard County, said there are no furries in schools there, either. Patterson is an Indiana State Teachers Association board member.
“Only ‘furry’ kids I see are high school boys who don’t shave,” Patterson said.
Last fall, several people came to an Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation board meeting, the Evansville Courier & Press reported, to raise concerns that the district was allowing students to dress and behave as animals, even providing litter boxes in bathrooms.
"There are no litter boxes in our schools. Period. There never will be," Evansville Superintendent David Smith said after that meeting.
What’s a furry?
At the heart of the rumors ‒ repeated by conservative politicians and commentators nationwide ‒ is the idea that schools are letting children identify as animals as an extension of allowing them to choose their own gender identity independent of the one assigned at birth.
According to Furscience, a team of scientists studying the furry fandom, the term furry describes a diverse community of fans, artists, writers, gamers and role players. Most furries create for themselves an anthropomorphized animal character with whom they identify. Some furries wear elaborate costumes or paraphernalia such as animal ears or tails, or represent themselves as anthropomorphic animals in online communities. While a small percentage of those surveyed think they have a deeper connection to animals, the vast majority do not identify as animal.
Though many self-identifying furries are teenagers and young adults, according to data collected by Furscience, it doesn’t mean that all students who wear a headband with cat ears on it – a popular accessory among kids sold at major retailers – are part of the furry community.
SB 380 is expected to receive a vote from the Senate’s education committee next week. Should it pass, as bills sponsored by powerful committee chairs usually do, it would move onto the full Senate for debate.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Indiana statehouse: Committee targets furries in schools