This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. Support CCM’s neighborhood news. The Colorado Sun is an owner of CCM.
By Rylee Dunn, Colorado Community Media
Over the summer, the members of a Facebook group called Jeffco Kids First began shifting their concern away from pandemic policies in schools to identities it deemed disruptive to learning.
A leading voice in the group told parents to empower their children to find “furries,” kids who dress up in animal accessories, and to record them.
“If any of your kids would be willing to record anonymous audio of their experiences with furries hissing, barking, clawing, chasing, and how it affects their school day, please send to me or let me know ASAP!” Jeffco Kids First creator Lindsay Datko, a parent in Jefferson County Public Schools, posted.
Details like these have not been widely publicized because the Facebook group is private, meaning only members can see what is posted. After being denied entry to the group, Colorado Community Media gained access through a member who wanted the group’s content to be public.
School officials say the group’s activities can be disruptive and harmful to kids. But it has some strong backers, including University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, the Republican Party’s nominee in this fall’s Colorado gubernatorial race. She’s also a member of the group.
“Boy, Jeffco Kids First has been such an impactful and amazing community, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of you over the past couple of years,” Ganahl said in a post in Jeffco Kids First. “You are warriors fighting for our kids every day in the classroom and in school. I want to be a voice for all of you.”
Ganahl has used the issue to spark furor during media interviews.
“Not many people know that we have furries in Colorado schools,” Ganahl said in a Sept. 24 interview on 710KNUS, a conservative talk radio station. “Have you heard about this? Yeah, kids identifying as cats. It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it’s happening all over Colorado and schools are tolerating it. It’s insane.”
Ganahl pointed to Jefferson County schools in the interview.
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While principals can act to minimize distractions at schools, like placing restrictions on disruptive attire, the tactics of Jeffco Kids First amount to an attack on children, Jeffco Public Schools Board President Stephanie Schooley told Colorado Community Media.
“What I want is for people to stop demonizing our kids,” Schooley said. “That’s what I feel like has been happening, that in objecting to and playing some of these identity politics, our kids hear this language … and they don’t understand why people hate them for who they are, for how they were born and who they’ve become. They don’t understand and that is, psychologically, so very damaging. It makes my heart hurt.”
Ganahl didn’t respond to Colorado Community Media’s request for an interview about the Facebook group’s activities.
Last month, Datko urged the nearly 6,000 members of Jeffco Kids First to have their kids secretly record their classmates.
“The media is trying to spin this,” Datko wrote in the post.
Editor’s note: Lindsay Datko contacted Colorado Community Media after publication to clarify that she was seeking testimony from kids about their experiences through their parents.