Georgia teacher asks state board to reverse firing over controversial book



Teacher Katie Rinderle is appealing the Cobb County Board of Education’s decision last month to fire her for reading a book that challenges gender norms to fifth grade students, she and her attorneys announced Thursday.

“The board’s decision to fire me undermines students’ freedom to learn,” Rinderle said in a statement through the Southern Poverty Law Center. “I am appealing this decision because I oppose censorship, discrimination and harm to students in any form. I’m committed to creating inclusive, diverse and empowering environments that center students in their learning journey.”

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.

Under state law, Rinderle is allowed to appeal the local board’s decision to the Georgia Board of Education. According to the notice of appeal sent to the Cobb school district, Rinderle is asking the state board to reverse the local board’s decision and expunge her record.

“The board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law, an abuse of discretion, unsupported by any or sufficient evidence, and violated due process,” the notice of appeal stated.

Cobb officials said in a statement they are “confident the actions of the Board were appropriate considering the entirety of the teacher’s behavior and history. The District remains committed to strictly enforcing all Board policy, and the law.”

Rinderle was removed from her classroom in March after reading fifth graders a book called “My Shadow is Purple” by Scott Stuart. Some parents complained to the school’s principal that they were not informed about the content of the book ahead of time. Rinderle maintained that the book was about inclusivity.

In a two-day hearing in front of a tribunal of retired educators, her attorneys argued that the district’s policies are not clear. Attorneys for the district argued that Rinderle willfully violated the district’s policies and that her professional judgement is no longer trustworthy. The tribunal ultimately did not recommend her firing, but the final decision was left to the school board. The board’s four Republicans voted to fire Rinderle while its three Democrats voted against the measure.

Attorney Craig Goodmark called her firing “inappropriate,” and said there’s “no justification for it” immediately after the board’s vote. “The district failed to prove that she did anything wrong,” he said.

Many have praised the Cobb’s decision to fire Rinderle, thanking the school board for “supporting family values.” Rinderle’s supporters, though, wondered what ramifications her firing would have for other teachers in Cobb and in Georgia. They didn’t have to wait long to see the effects. Cobb County Association of Educators President Jeff Hubbard described a deluge of messages in the hour after the Aug. 17 vote from teachers who were worried about the books in their own classroom libraries.

Within days, the district announced that two books were removed from school libraries for having “highly inappropriate, sexually explicit” content: “Flamer” by Mike Curato, a graphic novel set in a 1995 summer camp about a boy who is bullied for appearing gay, and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews, about two high school boys who become friends with a girl who is dying of cancer. One outside group claimed credit for getting the books removed, while another called on the district to pull the Bible from school libraries for the same reasons.

“The board’s decision to fire Ms. Rinderle defies logic and the law,” said Mike Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC in a statement. “The superintendent and board majority continue to shamelessly enforce unlawful and discriminatory policies that harm educators and students. We will continue to hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”