Cobb Teacher fired for reading gender-themed-book in class
A Cobb County School District elementary teacher was fired after reading a gender-themed book to her students. According to her lawyer as well as a local teacher advocate group, Due West Elementary teacher Katie Rinderle was told by school district officials that she ran afoul of the state’s new “divisive concepts” law.
Jeff Hubbard, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators (CCAE) is the Cobb affiliate of the Georgia Association of Educators, a professional association that advocates on behalf of teachers. The organization is speaking out on Rinderle’s behalf and has obtained legal counsel for Rinderle, who is appealing her termination. What is most disturbing is that Rinderle, a teacher of 10 years, purchased the book at a Scholastic book fair that was held at the Due West school.
In March, Rinderle read the rhyming picture book “My Shadow is Purple,” to her students. One of the students went home and discussed the book with their mother, who became upset. The mother wrote a “scathing letter” to Rinderle, who was placed on leave within a few days. A termination letter was issued June 6.
Published in 2022 by Australian author Scott Stuart, the book uses illustrations of blue and pink shadows to represent the gender identities of men and women. The main character of the book feels split between these two genders, feeling their shadow is purple. In a scene in the book, the character wears a combination of a suit and a dress to the school dance.
Said Hubbard, “It’s about uniqueness, it’s about diversity, it’s about inclusion. But it appears that the parent … objected to the fact that it possibly could move beyond the gender binary.” Nonbinary people are those who don’t identify as strictly male or female.
In a statement, the Cobb school district declined to provide details of the investigation but defended its decision. “Without getting into specifics of the personnel investigation, the District is confident that this action is appropriate considering the entirety of the teacher’s behavior and history,” the district said. “However, as this matter is ongoing, further comment is unavailable. The District remains committed to strictly enforcing all Board policy and the law.”
During the investigation period, Hubbard was present at meetings with Rinderle and administrators. He said some parts of Cobb schools administration wanted to terminate Rinderle, while other leaders disagreed. “The decision for termination ultimately rests with the superintendent of the school system,” Hubbard said. “So, Superintendent (Chris) Ragsdale made the decision to terminate Ms. Rinderle’s contract.”
Georgia lawmakers last year passed a bill banning certain “divisive concepts” from being taught in classrooms, which local districts like Cobb then implemented into their policies. This included eliminating lessons and reading materials that they deemed too liberal, however many say that bans being implemented in teaching mostly concern race. They include the belief that “the (U.S.) is fundamentally racist” and that “an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race, bears individual responsibility for actions committed in the past by other individuals of the same race.”
Craig Goodmark, Rinderle’s attorney, said she asked Cobb school administrators why the book was divisive, but never got a clear explanation. Said Goodmark, “I am concerned that Ms. Rinderle is being terminated for violation of a law that nobody really understands or can decipher.” Goodmark believes the new law is producing a chilling effect on classroom discussions. “Public school teachers don’t know what they can teach. Students don’t know what’s open for debate,” Goodmark said. “This is bad for Georgia public schools, bad for teachers and ultimately bad for the children in Georgia.”
In a video post, the book’s author commented on the issue saying, “This whole thing just really goes to show how much more interested the school system in the U.S. is in playing politics than they are in educating kids. It’s gross, it’s disgusting.”
Rinderle’s attorney said her appeal is set to be heard by a Cobb schools tribunal on Aug. 3. If she is unsuccessful, Rinderle could sue the district on First Amendment grounds or by challenging the constitutionality of the divisive concepts law.
A report on Rinderle’s firing from the Southern Poverty Law Center claimed she’s the first Georgia teacher to lose her job as a result of three education laws the state passed last year — “the divisive concepts law”, the “Parent’s Bill of Rights” and a law banning content that’s “harmful to minors.”