A fifth-grade teacher has been fired by a Georgia school board after she read a book exploring gender beyond the binary in the latest fallout over LGBTQ-inclusive education.
The Cobb County school board in Atlanta, Georgia voted 4-3 on Thursday (17 August) to fire Katie Rinderle, who had been a teacher at Due West Elementary School for 10 years.
Rinderle was removed from her classroom in March after a parent complained she’d read “My Shadow is Purple” by Scott Stuart. The heartwarming children’s book explores identity and gender beyond the binary, and it features a non-binary character.
“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 Republican-majority board said in a statement.
The district claimed the teacher violated at least six district policies and administrative rules, which include two policies based on Georgia laws. One restricts instruction of nebulously-defined “divisive concepts”, and another aims to provide greater transparency to parents about the topics their children are being taught, according to CNN.
Rinderle is believed to be the first public school teacher in Georgia to be fired because of the laws.
Katie Rinderle: ‘Censorship perpetuates harm and students deserve better’
The teacher was “disappointed” by the district’s decision to terminate her for “reading an inclusive and affirming book – one that is representative of diverse student identities”.
“The district is sending a harmful message that not all students are worthy of affirmation in being their unapologetic and authentic selves,” she said in a statement released by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which helped represent her.
“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.”
Attorney Craig Goodmark said there’s “no legitimate explanation for this termination” and that Rinderle, like other teachers in Georgia, “does not know where the lines are drawn when it comes to sensitive, controversial, or divisive concepts”.
He added that Rinderle can appeal to the state Board of Education or possibly take other legal action.
In a two-day hearing last week, a panel of three retired teachers reviewed the case against Rinderle, and it agreed that the teacher had “neglected her duties and that there was sufficient cause to take action”.
The panel rejected the recommendation that Rinderle’s employment be terminated.
Controversy over what educators can teach in classrooms has reached a peak in recent years, with many Republican-led states passing bans on inclusive education. Topics that have been targeted by right-wing ire include critical race theory, sexual orientation and gender identity.
After news broke about Rinderle’s case in June, PEN America – a non-profit that celebrates freedom of expression and keeps a list of the most banned books in US classrooms and libraries, inclusive transgender and LGBTQ+ books – released a statement condemning the school board’s actions.
“It is shocking that an educator would be terminated under this vague law for reading students a book and encouraging them to be themselves,” Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of free expression and education, said.
“Every child deserves to be joyfully represented in their classroom and with their peers, and every educator deserves a space to teach without fear of censure or termination for exercising their professional judgment.
“That this teacher purchased the book at the school book fair and that it was voted on by her students adds a layer of absurdity to an otherwise horrifying story.
“Unfortunately the climate for public education continues to be chilled by these harmful decisions to discipline educators for simply doing their jobs.”