EDUCATION & SCHOOLS

No evidence of ‘furries’ in Nebo School District despite allegations, social media firestorm

Apr 18, 2024, 7:01 PM

Unfounded allegations of students at Mt. Nebo Junior High School dressing up like animals and bitin...

Unfounded allegations of students at Mt. Nebo Junior High School dressing up like animals and biting, barking, and pouncing on fellow students created a social media firestorm and small protest in Payson on Wednesday. (Taun Beddes)

(Taun Beddes)

PAYSON — Allegations of students at Mt. Nebo Junior High School dressing up like animals and biting, barking and pouncing on fellow students created a social media firestorm on Wednesday.

As it turns out, these allegations were “completely unfounded,” said Seth Sorensen, spokesman for the Nebo School District.

Last week, “students were not treating each other respectfully and things were occurring that they just did not feel were appropriate and conducive to education,” Sorenson said.

A small group of students at the school were wearing headbands with animal ears, which led other students to throw food at them. Kelsey James, spokeswoman for the Utah State Board of Education, said that incident prompted the school to send a letter to students’ families.

The letter, which was obtained by KSL.com on Thursday, reminded students of the district’s dress code, which says “jewelry, accessories, tattoos, hair, facial hair and other elements of a student’s appearance that draw undue attention, distract, disrupt, or otherwise interfere with the learning atmosphere at school or at school activities and events, or that create a health, safety, or welfare issue are prohibited.”

After the administration had conversations with the students wearing the headbands — noting that they were a “little bit of a disruption” — the students stopped wearing them, Sorenson said.

The letter also addressed the food throwing targeted at the headband-wearing students, saying that a “written, verbal or a physical act that creates a hostile, threatening, humiliating, or abusive environment is not permitted.”

“As that message went out, somehow, parts of that message were, we believe, misunderstood,” Sorenson said. “Individuals took to social media to share their interpretations of the message, and it kind of turned into something wild and crazy.”

He added that the school hasn’t had any incidents of students wearing masks or animal costumes, nor have any students engaged in biting, licking or any other forms of animal-like behavior.

Still, the unfounded allegations of “furries” (people who dress and sometimes act like animals) spread like wildfire across social media, most prominently in conservative circles.

In a post Thursday on the social platform X, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said students “who behave like animals and bite classmates should be expelled” and administrators “who defend such behavior should be fired.”

“There’s really been no evidence that any of those behaviors ever occurred. The administration has had no reports from students that that happened,” Sorenson said. “There’s been a lot of things pushed out on social media that are inaccurate and a lot of information that is not factual and is based on hearsay and rumors.”

The outrage that ensued over social media led to a group of students and parents staging a protest across the street from the school on Wednesday. Sorenson said that there were about 75 protesters, in total.

“They had signs that were expressing things like they wanted equal rights for everyone, and it was a very peaceful protest, and they behaved appropriately,” Sorenson said. “It was not an issue, and in the meantime, our school continued as normal … and today the situation is kind of gone.”

State lawmaker and Utah gubernatorial candidate Phil Lyman also chimed in on X, saying, “We The People, not the animals. Each of these children have more courage, conviction, and fortitude than all of our ‘Republicans leaders’ (RINOS) put together.”

Both Lee and Lyman retweeted a post from Libs of TikTok, which the Washington Post says has amassed an audience of millions on X, largely by targeting LGBTQ+ people. In the video, a group of students speaking over each other complain that some students at the school wear masks and pounce on people.

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No evidence of ‘furries’ in Nebo School District despite allegations, social media firestorm