A school board in suburban Atlanta voted Thursday to fire a teacher who read a book about gender fluidity to her fifth-grade class. The decision comes as over 200 anti-LGBTQ+ education laws are set to go into effect across the country this upcoming school year.
In a 4-3 vote along party lines, the Cobb County School Board in Georgia voted to fire Katie Rinderle. She had taught at the district for 10 years before being reprimanded for reading “My Shadow Is Purple” by Scott Stuart at Due West Elementary School, a picture book that challenged the gender binary, The Associated Press reported.
In a statement released through the Southern Press Law Center (SPLC), which helped represent Rinderle, she expressed disappointment in “the district’s decision to terminate me for reading an inclusive and affirming book — one that is representative of diverse student identities,” she said.
The school board vote is the latest of various conservative moves to censor or remove progressive content from the classroom.
Teachers across the country have been investigated for similar instances, such as Florida fifth-grade teacher, Jenna Barbee, who was also investigated by her school board in May after she showed the Disney movie “A Strange World,” which features an openly LGBTQ character in a central role.
Hundreds of community members rallied in support of Barbee. One student said during the school board meeting teachers are “scared to say anything that will get them fired.”
Since early 2021, lawmakers in almost every state have introduced legislation aimed at banning and restricting learning about controversial topics. In July, a judge sided with Florida after the state’s teacher’s union challenged rules that restrict what books are available in classrooms, arguing that they lead to censorship and book bans.
Last week Arkansas was the latest state to question the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American History class, labelling it as “indoctrination,” after Florida first banned the class earlier this year.
In Atlanta, Rinderle said the district was “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,” she said in the statement.
The school board vote also went against a panel of three retired teachers, who- after a two-day hearing- recommended Rinderle not be fired despite determining she had violated district policies, according to The Associated Press.
“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 board’s decision is reflective of that mission,” the Cobb County district said in a press release.
Rinderle is believed to be the first teacher fired as a result of a 2022 law passed in Cobb County barring teaching on controversial topics, according to The Associated Press. Earlier that year, Georgia passed laws banning teachers from teaching “divisive lessons” and created a parent’s bill of rights, which guarantees parents “the right to direct the upbringing and the moral or religious training of his or her minor child.”
Rinderle’s lawyer, Craig Goodmark, spoke to reporters after the meeting and said the vote was “an act that only can be construed as politics over policy.” Goodmark also noted Rinderle did not know what was and wasn’t allowed under the 2022 law because it was so vague, The Associated Press reported.
Goodmark said there is “no legitimate explanation for this termination. 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,” in the joint statement with SPLC.
Rinderle does have the option to appeal the decision and she is considering her options, Goodmark said. He said “she will be a teacher again” as she still has a teaching license and could teach in other districts.
“It’s impossible for a teacher to know what’s in the minds of parents when she starts her lesson,” Goodmark said. “For parents to be able, with a political agenda, to come in from outside the classroom and have a teacher fired is completely unfair. It’s not right. It’s terrible for Georgia’s education system.”
Thao Nguyen contributed to this report.