Board of Education Upholds Firing of Teacher Over Book Read to Class

Katie Rinderle can appeal the decision, and is also suing the district
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 18, 2023 1:45 PM CDT
Updated Feb 23, 2024 3:00 AM CST
School Board Fires Teacher Over Book Read to Class
Cobb County teacher Katie Rinderle, right, embraces Jack Lakis, a recent Harrison High School graduate, after the school board fired her on Thursday in Marietta, Ga.   (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
UPDATE Feb 23, 2024 3:00 AM CST

The firing of a Georgia teacher who read a book on gender fluidity to her fifth grade class was upheld Thursday by the Georgia Board of Education, the AP reports. Katie Rinderle has maintained that the book was about inclusivity. She was fired in August, and filed an appeal the next month. At their meeting Thursday, the state board voted unanimously to affirm the Cobb County School Board's decision without discussing it, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Georgia law gives either Rinderle or the school district 30 days to appeal the decision in Cobb County Superior Court. Meanwhile, Rinderle and the Georgia Association of Educators are suing the district and its leaders for discrimination related to her firing. The complaint filed last week in US District Court in Atlanta alleges that the plaintiffs "have been terminated or fear discipline under (Cobb's) vague censorship policies for actively and openly supporting their LGBTQ students."

Aug 18, 2023 1:45 PM CDT

A Georgia school board voted along party lines Thursday to fire a teacher after officials said she improperly read a book on gender fluidity to her fifth-grade class. The Cobb County School Board in suburban Atlanta voted 4-3 to fire Katie Rinderle, overriding the recommendation of a panel of three retired educators. The panel found after a two-day hearing that Rinderle had violated district policies but said she should not be fired, the AP reports. She had been a teacher for 10 years when she got into trouble in March for reading the picture book My Shadow Is Purple by Scott Stuart at Due West Elementary School, after which some parents complained.

The case has drawn wide attention as a test of what public school teachers can teach in class, how much a school system can control teachers, and whether parents can veto instruction they dislike. Rinderle declined to comment after the vote but released a statement through the Southern Poverty Law Center, which helped represent her. "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." The district policy was adopted last year.

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The board's four Republicans voted to fire Rinderle, while three Democrats voted against firing her. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who is backed by the Republican majority, had originally recommended Rinderle be fired. The district said in a statement that "we are very serious about keeping our classrooms focused on teaching, learning, and opportunities for success for students." Her lawyer, Craig Goodmark, reiterated after the meeting in Marietta that the policy was so vague Rinderle couldn't know what was not allowed. The hearing tribunal seemed to concur, refusing to agree with a statement that Rinderle knowingly and intentionally violated policies. Rinderle could appeal her firing to the state Board of Education and ultimately in court. She's still licensed and could teach elsewhere. "She will be a teacher again," Goodmark said.

(More teacher firing stories.)

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