A suburban Atlanta school board has voted to terminate the contract of a teacher who read a book about gender identity to gifted fifth-graders – the latest salvo in a nationwide clash over how issues like gender and race are discussed in public school classrooms.
The Cobb County board voted 4-3 Thursday to terminate the contract of Katherine Rinderle, disagreeing with the recommendation of a panel of retired county educators. She was removed from her classroom in March after a parent complained she’d read “My Shadow is Purple” to her class, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents her in part.
The district has claimed Rinderle in reading the book 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, according to a charge letter from the district reviewed by CNN.
The Georgia laws are part of a broader effort by conservative lawmakers across US states to limit how topics such as sexual orientation, gender identity and race are handled in schools.
Rinderle may appeal, her lawyer Craig Goodmark said Friday in a statement.
“I think there were several issues with the investigation, the hearing and the ultimate decision to terminate that give us very strong arguments on appeal,” he told CNN, adding a decision will be quick.
“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 after Thursday’s vote in a statement released by the law center.
“The district is sending a harmful message that not all students are worthy of affirmation in being their unapologetic and authentic selves,” she said. “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.”
The district, for its part, “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 Board’s decision is reflective of that mission,” its spokesperson said.
The week before the board vote, Goodmark had addressed Rinderle’s future: “I think what Katie wants to do is be an educator,” he told CNN. “I think she, she loves her kids, she loves the classroom. If Cobb County doesn’t want her, she’s going to be an educator someplace else.”
A panel of three retired county educators last week ruled against the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate Rinderle, who’d been told she was being fired “on the grounds of insubordination, willful neglect of duties and any other good and sufficient cause,” the charge letter states.
The three-person panel concluded Rinderle did not violate board policies on insubordination but did violate the other policies, even as it declined to recommend her termination.
“My Shadow is Purple,” written by Scott Stuart, describes itself as a “heartwarming and inspiring book about being true to yourself.” Publisher Larrikin House says the story “considers gender beyond binary in a vibrant spectrum of colour.”