4 things to know as Cobb teacher asks state to reverse firing over book

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Cobb teacher Katie Rinderle, who was fired for reading a controversial book to her students, is asking the Georgia Board of Education to reverse her termination.

Rinderle was removed from her classroom at Due West Elementary after reading “My Shadow is Purple” by Scott Stuart to fifth grade students. The book challenges gender norms, and Rinderle is believed to be the first public school teacher in the state to face consequences under Georgia laws passed in 2022 that limit what teachers can talk about in classrooms.

After a two-day hearing, and after a tribunal of three retired educators did not recommend Rinderle’s termination, the four Republican school board members voted to fire her while the three Democrats dissented.

Here’s what we know about the path forward for Rinderle’s case:

What happens during an appeal?

Rinderle and her attorneys started the process, which is outlined in state statutes and state Board of Education rules, by notifying the Cobb County School District on Thursday of its intent to appeal. More than 1,000 pages of documents will have to be procured for the state board, including the transcript of the local hearing and any evidence entered into the record.

Eventually, there will be oral arguments from both sides, said Ashley Levett, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing Rinderle, along with attorney Craig Goodmark. They’re not sure at this point whether those arguments will be open to the public.

Then, the state board will discuss the case privately and vote publicly, much like the Cobb County Board of Education did last month.

When will the state board decide?

The state board is not expected to vote on the case before its January 2024 meeting, said Georgia Department of Education spokesperson Meghan Frick.

How common is it for termination appeals to go to the state board?

The state board most often deals with student legal appeals, not ones from employees. It’s even rarer that it weighs in terminations.

At its Aug. 24-25, 2022 meeting, the state board affirmed the local board’s decision to terminate a Henry County teacher for remarks to a student it said exhibited “unprofessional and unethical conduct.” Two other appeals from teachers from the last year had to do with compensation and a suspension.

Would that be the end of Rinderle’s case?

Georgia law gives either party the ability to appeal the state board’s decision to superior court, meaning future legal proceedings are not out of the question.

“This is not the end of this case,” said Mike Tafelski, a senior attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a news release after Rinderle was fired. “This is the beginning.”