Cobb County teacher fired for reading book on gender identity to students


A Georgia school board has decided to fire a teacher who read a book on gender identity to her fifth grade class, despite the recommendation of a panel of retired educators to keep her. The teacher, Katie Rinderle, said she was disappointed by the decision and that the district was sending a harmful message to students.

Teacher read “My Shadow is Purple” to her class

Rinderle, who had been a teacher for 10 years, got into trouble in March when she read the picture book “My Shadow is Purple” by Scott Stuart to her gifted fifth-graders at Due West Elementary School in Cobb County, a suburban Atlanta district.

Cobb County teacher fired for reading book on gender identity to students
Cobb County teacher fired for reading book on gender identity to students

The book is about a child who has a purple shadow that represents their gender identity, which is different from their assigned sex at birth. The book describes itself as a “heartwarming and inspiring book about being true to yourself.”

Rinderle said she read the book as part of a lesson on diversity and inclusion, and that she had previously read books on other topics such as race, religion, and disability. She said she wanted to create a safe and welcoming environment for all her students, some of whom identified as LGBTQ+ or had LGBTQ+ family members.

However, some parents complained to the school administration about the book, saying it was inappropriate for fifth-graders and that they were not informed or consulted about it. The district then removed Rinderle from her classroom and placed her on administrative leave, pending an investigation.

District accused teacher of violating policies

The district claimed that Rinderle violated at least six of its policies and administrative rules, including two based on 2022 Georgia laws that restrict instruction of “divisive concepts” and provide greater transparency to parents and guardians in what their children are taught. The district also accused Rinderle of insubordination, willful neglect of duties, and any other good and sufficient cause.

The district’s superintendent, Chris Ragsdale, recommended that Rinderle be fired “on the grounds of insubordination, willful neglect of duties and any other good and sufficient cause,” according to a charge letter from the district reviewed by CNN.

Rinderle appealed the recommendation and requested a hearing before a tribunal of three retired Cobb County educators. The hearing took place last week and lasted for two days. Rinderle was represented by lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), who argued that she did not violate any policies or laws, and that the district was violating her First Amendment rights and academic freedom.

Tribunal ruled against firing but board overruled

The tribunal issued its decision on Monday, finding that Rinderle did not violate the board policy on insubordination but did violate the other policies. However, the tribunal declined to recommend her termination, saying it was too harsh a penalty for reading one book. The tribunal suggested that Rinderle be reinstated with a written reprimand instead.

The tribunal’s decision was not binding, however, and the final authority rested with the school board. On Thursday, the board voted 4-3 along party lines to fire Rinderle, overriding the tribunal’s recommendation. The board’s four Republicans voted to fire Rinderle, while three Democrats voted against firing her after unsuccessfully seeking to delay the vote.

The board’s decision was met with applause by some parents who attended the meeting, while others expressed dismay and anger. Rinderle hugged some of her supporters and former students after the vote.

Teacher said decision was harmful and based on vague policies

Rinderle released a statement through the SPLC after the vote, saying she was disappointed by the decision and that the district was sending a harmful message to students.

“The district is sending a harmful message that not all students are worthy of affirmation in being their unapologetic and authentic selves,” Rinderle said in the statement. “This decision, based on intentionally vague policies, will result in more teachers self-censoring in fear of not knowing where the invisible line will be drawn. Censorship perpetuates harm and students deserve better.”

Rinderle’s lawyer, Craig Goodmark, told reporters after the meeting that the vote was “an act that only can be construed as politics over policy,” reiterating that the board policy prohibiting teaching on controversial issues was so vague that Rinderle couldn’t know what was allowed or not. The tribunal seemed to agree with that point, refusing to agree with a statement that Rinderle knowingly and intentionally violated district policies.

Goodmark also said that Rinderle planned to appeal the decision in court.

Case reflects nationwide clash over LGBTQ+ issues in schools

Rinderle’s case is one of many examples of how LGBTQ+ issues have become a flashpoint in public education across the country. Conservative lawmakers in several states have introduced or passed bills that limit how topics such as sexual orientation, gender identity and race are handled in schools. Some parents have also protested against books or curricula that they deem inappropriate or harmful for their children.

Advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and academic freedom have denounced these efforts as discriminatory and censorious, and have argued that they undermine the diversity and inclusion of students and teachers. They have also pointed out the negative effects of such policies on the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ students, who face higher rates of bullying, harassment and suicide than their peers.

The American Library Association (ALA) has listed “My Shadow is Purple” as one of the most challenged books of 2022, along with other books that feature LGBTQ+ characters or themes. The ALA defines a challenge as “a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”

The author of the book, Scott Stuart, who is also an LGBTQ+ activist and father, has expressed his support for Rinderle and other teachers who have faced backlash for reading his book. He has said that his book is meant to celebrate diversity and encourage children to be themselves.


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