Georgia Board upholds firing of Cobb County teacher over children’s book

Discretion on library book selection has limits. The issues of who has the power to control library books and whether a sanction can be imposed if a teacher violates the rules of that control arose in Cobb County, Georgia.

Katie Rinderle had been a fifth-grade teacher for ten years at Due West Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia. Rinderle made headlines in March, 2023, when she read the picture book “My Shadow Is Purple” by Scott Stuart at Due West Elementary School. “The book discusses gender fluidity.” Ms. Rinderle decided such a theme was appropriate and educational for ten-year-olds. Some parents “complained.”

The matter of the appropriateness of Ms. Rinderle’s book selection was brought to the attention of the Cobb County School Board to determine if any action should be taken against her. As reported, in August 2023, the school board voted 4-3 to fire her. During her termination hearing, “school district lawyer Sherry Culves said discussing gender identity and gender fluidity was inappropriate.” Rinderle claimed her students “chose to read the book.”

Background information discloses that the Cobb County’s board decision “overrode the recommendation of a panel of three retired educators.” Reporting states that the panel found after a two-day hearing that “Rinderle had violated district policies, but said she should not be fired.”

The Georgia School Board of Education unanimously upheld the firing of Rinderle “without any discussion.”

As reported, Cobb County “adopted a rule in 2022 barring teaching on controversial issues”  after Georgia lawmakers earlier that year enacted laws barring the teaching of “divisive concepts” and creating a parents’ bill of rights. “The divisive concepts law, although it addresses teaching on race, bars teachers from “espousing personal political beliefs.”” The bill of rights guarantees that parents have “the right to direct the upbringing and the moral or religious training of his or her minor child.”

Reporting asserts that Rinderle’s 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.” Reporting further asserts that the context of the action “comes amid a nationwide conservative backlash to books and teaching about LGBTQ+ subjects in school.”

Rinderle claimed that “The board’s decision to fire me undermines students’ freedom to learn.”” Rinderle vowed to appeal the Board’s decision. The Board determined that the material used to advance the noble “freedom to learn” philosophy had limits.

D & B Staff

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