But a district-appointed, three-person tribunal that heard the case denied the district’s recommendation to terminate her employment. The school board has the choice to adopt, reject or modify the tribunal’s decision. Board Chair Brad Wheeler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the board would discuss the case at a school board meeting Thursday. The board is expected to talk about the case privately and vote publicly on the issue.
“The board will review the tribunal’s recommendation and looks forward to returning our entire focus on educating all of our talented students,” a spokesperson for the school district said in an email.
During the two-day hearing, Rinderle and her attorney repeatedly argued that “My Shadow is Purple” by Scott Stuart is about inclusivity, not gender identity. This was a sticking point for the district, which argued in investigative documents and in the hearing that Rinderle’s professional judgment was no longer trustworthy.
The tribunal’s findings are complex. It disagreed that Rinderle was “knowingly untruthful” when she denied that the book and her lesson addressed the topic of gender identity, but agreed that she was “knowingly untruthful” when she denied understanding that gender identity is a sensitive topic in the community. The tribunal disagreed that Rinderle’s actions demonstrated a lack of coachability, but agreed that she showed a lack of judgment.
The recommendation is a five-page document that lists the district’s assertions of the facts. The tribunal indicated whether they agreed or disagreed with each, sometimes crossing out statements and adding handwritten notes. Claims that Rinderle has a pattern of making students feel uncomfortable in her class, that multiple parents have complained over time about Rinderle and that the topic of the book should be left for parents to address with children at home were all crossed out. Rinderle’s attorneys argued last week that topics like these were outside the scope of the hearing or constituted hearsay.
The tribunal agreed that the book involves a sensitive and controversial topic per district rules, that Rinderle was trained on the district’s rules and that she did not give parents a chance to opt out of the lesson. It agreed that she disobeyed the instructions of her supervisor to avoid sensitive and controversial topics, but crossed out “willingly” from that line.
The district made the case that Rinderle’s actions constitute insubordination, willful neglect of duties and “any other good and sufficient cause” — all reasons an employee could lose their job under Georgia’s Fair Dismissal Act. But the tribunal did not believe there was enough evidence to show that Rinderle had been insubordinate, according to the document. The recommendation does not mention additional or alternative punishment.
“I appreciate the tribunal’s consideration of my case and decision not to terminate me,” Rinderle said in an emailed statement through the Southern Poverty Law Center. “However, I disagree that I’ve violated any policy and that finding remains unjust and punitive. The district has not provided adequate guidance on how I am supposed to know what is and what is not allowed in the classroom based on these vague policies. Prioritizing behaviors and attitudes rooted in bigotry and discrimination does not benefit students and undermines the quality of education and the duty of educators.”