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Grand Forks Public Schools launches website to combat rumors

Brenner: Rumors regarding litter boxes in schools, critical race theory curriculum are false

Terry Brenner. Herald file photo
Terry Brenner. Herald file photo
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GRAND FORKS – Grand Forks Public Schools has launched a page on its website titled “Rumor Has It,” to combat the spread of false rumors across the district, according to its superintendent.

Superintendent Terry Brenner said the rumors, which have been circulating for more than a year, include claims that the district is storing litter boxes in its restrooms for student use, critical race theory is being taught and the district averaged a 17 out of 36 possible points on the ACT composite scores for the 2019-20 school. According to Brenner, the rumors are propagating both locally and nationally.

“These are false narratives that continue to be perpetuated by groups of people, for personal and political gain,” said Brenner. “I would challenge anyone who is responsible for promoting these false narratives to visit our schools, set up an appointment with our principals, and they will find these rumors have no credibility.”
The webpage contains a question and answer section pertaining to the aforementioned rumors, along with supporting documents debunking them.

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The claim that district officials are keeping litter boxes in its schools restrooms has also been made by several prominent politicians nationwide, including Scott Jensen, the Republican nominee in Minnesota’s gubernatorial election. During an October campaign stop in Hutchinson, Minnesota, Jensen alleged that school officials in the state are providing litter boxes to students who identify as “furries.” The term “furry” refers to individuals who dress as anthropomorphized animal characters.

"Why are we telling elementary kids that they get to choose their gender?" Jensen said during the campaign event. "Why do we have litter boxes in some of the school districts so kids can pee in them because they identify as a furry?"

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Similar claims were made by Heidi Ganahl, the Republican nominee in Colorado’s 2022 gubernatorial race. No school officials in either state have substantiated these claims.

Grand Forks Public Schools is also responding to rumors that it incorporates critical race theory into its social studies curriculum.

The webpage includes a one-page document that notes critical race theory is not taught in the Grand Forks Public Schools system, nor anywhere in North Dakota. The website defines critical race theory as an academic concept that asserts “racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

Brenner said critical race theory is not a discipline taught within the district, nor is it age-appropriate for grade school students.

“We follow the North Dakota state content standards, which specifically lays out what belongs in the state’s social studies curriculum,” said Brenner. “Critical race theory is not a part of that. From my understanding, it’s a conversation that probably belongs in law school, but it does not belong in K-12 education.”

Additionally, Grand Forks Public Schools officials have worked to combat a disinformation campaign made by three candidates who ran for office in District 43 — Jeff Barta for Senate, and Ethan Harsell and Eric Murphy for the House. As previously reported by the Herald , the candidates circulated a pamphlet asserting that Grand Forks Public Schools’ average ACT composite score was 17 out of 36 points, more than three points lower than the district’s actual average of 20.33. The candidates later revised and reprinted their campaign flyer, eliminating the chart that school district leaders felt conveyed misleading information about the ACT scores.

Brenner said although the rumor has it website contains a link to the accurate scores compiled by Insights of North Dakota — the state’s database for public education data — the harmful impact of the inaccurate pamphlet is still being felt.

“That group of politicians didn’t remove their pamphlet for two or three weeks after it was circulated,” said Brenner. “The damage was done.”

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