Cobb school board votes to fire teacher who read controversial book

After two-day hearing, tribunal had recommended against firing teacher
Katie Rinderle (right) embraces Jack Lakis, a recent Harrison High School graduate, after a Cobb County school board meeting in Marietta on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. The school board voted to fire Rinderle, who read a book that challenges gender norms to fifth grade students. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Katie Rinderle (right) embraces Jack Lakis, a recent Harrison High School graduate, after a Cobb County school board meeting in Marietta on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. The school board voted to fire Rinderle, who read a book that challenges gender norms to fifth grade students. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

The Cobb County Board of Education voted Thursday to fire Katie Rinderle, the teacher who read “My Shadow is Purple,” a book that challenged gender norms, to her fifth grade students in the spring.

The decision contradicts the recommendation of a tribunal of three retired educators who were selected to review the case and advise the school board. But under state law, the school board makes the final call. The law now gives Rinderle and her attorneys the chance to appeal the decision to the Georgia Board of Education.

The school board voted to uphold the recommendation from Superintendent Chris Ragsdale to fire Rinderle after the district investigated her conduct. The termination is effective immediately.

The 4-3 vote was split: The four Republicans — Brad Wheeler, David Banks, Randy Scamihorn and David Chastain — voted to terminate Rinderle’s employment. The three Democrats on the board — Leroy “Tre’” Hutchins, Becky Sayler and Nichelle Davis — opposed the decision. The school board discussed the case privately during its monthly meeting Thursday, but voted publicly. The board typically discusses personnel matters in private.



Sayler moved to postpone the decision until the board had more time to review the case, but the four Republicans voted the motion down.

Rinderle was removed from her classroom in March, after two parents complained about her reading the story about a child who doesn’t feel like their shadow is blue or pink.

Rinderle and her attorneys stood in the back of the boardroom on Thursday with supporters wearing purple T-shirts, while the majority of the speakers at the evening meeting asked the board to uphold “family values” and parents’ rights. Roughly 50 people filled the board meeting room.

Rinderle, who taught multiple grades at Due West Elementary School, is believed to be the first public school teacher in the state to face consequences under laws passed in Georgia last year that limit what teachers are allowed to discuss in the classroom.

“I am disappointed in the district’s decision to terminate me for reading an inclusive and affirming book — one that is representative of diverse student identities,” Rinderle said in a statement. “The district is sending a harmful message that not all students are worthy of affirmation in being their unapologetic and authentic selves.”



Craig Goodmark, her attorney, said they will review their options to decide how to proceed.

“We’re going to look at every legal avenue,” Goodmark told reporters after the meeting. “Her certification is intact. She’s a good teacher. She will be a teacher again.”

The district wanted to fire Rinderle for violating rules modeled after new state laws that require teachers to get preapproval to bring potentially sensitive topics into the classroom, and reserve parents’ rights to “direct the upbringing and moral or religious training of their children.” Rinderle maintained the book is about inclusivity, which is an appropriate topic for elementary students.

But a tribunal of retired educators who reviewed the case did not agree with the district’s plan to fire Rinderle, they indicated in a document Monday. They did not believe that there was enough evidence to prove that Rinderle was insubordinate, one of the three legal reasons the district listed as wanting to fire her.

Over a two-day hearing on the issue, one of the district’s main points was that Rinderle had not admitted wrongdoing, which they felt reflected poorly on her professional judgment. The tribunal agreed that Rinderle demonstrated a lack of judgment, but disagreed that she’s not coachable.

Her attorneys argued that the wording of the district rules is too vague for Rinderle to be punished, echoing what critics of the new laws have said.

“It’s impossible for a teacher to know what’s in the minds of parents when she starts her lesson,” Goodmark said. “For parents to be able with a political agenda from outside the classroom to come in and have a teacher fired, it’s simply unfair. It’s not right. It’s terrible for Georgia’s education system.”

Jeff Hubbard, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said the vote was “exceptionally partisan” and “sadly” not a surprise.

”This is a sad day because this is political,” Hubbard said. “I don’t think the punishment fits the crime, quite frankly.”



Though public speakers at Thursday’s meeting were not permitted to comment directly on personnel issues, about two dozen people spoke to the board about issues related to Rinderle’s case. Most people spoke against controversial issues being discussed in classrooms, including several grandparents who thanked the school board for “supporting family values,” and Abigail Darnell, whose husband is the chairman of the Cobb County Republican Assembly. The school board has the responsibility to ensure that there are consequences when people introduce “radical ideas” to children, she said.

“If I’m intentional about what I’m reading to my child, I can only assume that a professional educator is also intentional about the content that they’re providing,” she said, referencing the district’s assertion that Rinderle knowingly went against the rules to read a controversial book to students.

Others spoke about the importance of teaching inclusivity when it comes to gender and sexuality. These students exist in every school and classroom, said Beverly Wynne, whose now-adult son went to Due West Elementary.

“They are children,” she said. “Children who, alongside any child who feels they don’t belong, deserve to be protected from bullying and know that they are cared for and valued by their teacher.”

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