A fifth-grade elementary teacher was fired effective immediately Thursday by an Atlanta school board in the latest fallout from conservative retaliation to diversity in schools across the United States.
The Cobb County School Board voted 4-3 in favor of upholding superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s recommendation to fire Due West Elementary School teacher Katie Rinderle.
The vote reverses a tribunal panel’s recommendation earlier this week that Rinderle keep her job after she was removed from the classroom over a parent’s complaint in March that she read the book My Shadow Is Purple to her class. Ragsdale raged at the time that the book violated a state classroom censorship law introduced last year that bans and restricts teachers from introducing “divisive” concepts—including race and sexual identity—into the classroom.
“The district is pleased that this difficult issue has concluded; we are very serious about keeping our classrooms focused on teaching, learning, and opportunities for success for students,” the Cobb County district said afterward in a statement obtained by the Associated Press. “The board’s decision is reflective of that mission.” The outlet notes that Rinderle is believed to be the first public school teacher in Georgia to be affected by the laws.
The law, House Bill 1178, allows “the protection of the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their minor children from undue infringement,” the right of parents “to direct the upbringing and the moral or religious training of his or her minor child,” and parents’ “right to review all instructional materials intended for use in the classroom of his or her minor child,” among other additions.
BREAKING NEWS: The Cobb County Board of Education votes 4-3 to reject a district tribunal recommendation and fire teacher Katie Rinderle for reading a book about gender identity, “My Shadow Is Purple”, to her fifth grade class. #gapol pic.twitter.com/AimJ06hVb0
— Rahul Bali (@rahulbali) August 18, 2023
According to publisher Larrikin House, My Shadow Is Purple, written by bestselling children’s author Scott Stuart, is “a heartwarming and inspiring book about being true to yourself” that “considers gender beyond binary in a vibrant spectrum of color.” The story features a nonbinary character.
On Thursday, all four of the board’s Republican members voted to uphold the termination, while its three Democrats voted in opposition.
“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 written statement provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which along with lawyers for the Goodmark Law Firm represented Rinderle in the case.
“The district is sending a harmful message that not all students are worthy of affirmation in being their unapologetic and authentic selves. 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.”
Defending her decision to the tribunal last week, Rinderle said that despite being given options, students had voted themselves for the book to be read and that she had purchased it at the school’s book fair.
After the vote, Randy Scamihorn, one of the four Republicans who voted against Rinderle, told the Marietta Daily Journal that his vote stood for those who elected him.
“My constituents, my area, they’ve entrusted me to educate our kids, to keep our classrooms free of controversial topics and politics, and any negative impact to our students,” Scamihorn said. “We need to focus on our academics and Georgia standards and our curriculum, and anything that’s not on the curriculum needs to be approved before using. It’s simple as that.”
People have begun to arrive for tonight’s Cobb County School District Board meeting. Tonight, the Board will decide whether or not to fire Due West Elementary teacher Katie Rinderle, who read her 10/11-year-old students a book with “divisive concepts." pic.twitter.com/xUuJj9SBUs
— Joshua Skinner (@JoshuaSkinnerTV) August 17, 2023
Mike Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for children’s rights at the SPLC, said the center was “disappointed” but not “surprised” by the outcome.
“We knew this was a predetermined outcome dictated by Chris Ragsdale and the Cobb County Board of Education majority,” Tafelski said. “They continue to prioritize discrimination, bigotry, and retaliation in Cobb County Schools. And we will continue to hold them accountable for their unlawful conduct. This is not the end of this case. This is the beginning.”
According to the Associated Press, lawyer Craig Goodmark indicated that Rinderle may appeal the decision to the state Board of Education but was considering “every legal avenue.”
“There is no legitimate explanation for this termination,” Goodmark said later in a statement. “To fire a teacher under a law that no two people could agree on is wrong. Ms. Rinderle, like other Georgia educators, does not know where the lines are drawn when it comes to sensitive, controversial, or divisive concepts. After two days of trial, we still do not know.”