Cobb County teacher fired over children's book appealing termination

A former Cobb County elementary school teacher who was fired after officials say she improperly read a book on gender fluidity to her fifth grade class is appealing her termination to the State Board of Education.

In August, the Cobb County School Board 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.

Rinderle 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.

During the hearing, Rinderle said out of several options, her students chose to read the book, which she picked up at a recent book fair at the school.

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. It comes amid a nationwide conservative backlash to books and teaching about LGBTQ+ subjects in school.


"The board’s decision to fire me undermines students’ freedom to learn," Rinderle said in a statement announcing her appeal. "I am appealing this decision because I oppose censorship, discrimination and harm to students in any form. I’m committed to creating inclusive, diverse and empowering environments that center students in their learning journey."

The board’s four Republicans voted to fire Rinderle, while three Democrats voted against firing her after unsuccessfully seeking to delay the vote. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who is backed by the Republican majority, had originally recommended Rinderle be fired.

"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 after the board made their decision.

Katie Rinderle shows a copy of "My Shadow is Purple" (Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center)

Her lawyer, Craig Goodmark, told reporters after the meeting in Marietta that the vote was "an act that only can be construed as politics over policy," reiterating that the board policy prohibiting teaching on controversial issues was so vague that Rinderle couldn’t know what was allowed or not. The hearing tribunal seemed to agree with that point, refusing to agree with a statement that Rinderle knowingly and intentionally violated district policies, while agreeing she violated two other politicies.

Teachers should not be fired for doing their jobs," Goodmark said. "The board’s decision was purely political. We appealed the board’s termination in light of the facts of the case and the decision of a hand-picked tribunal that believed Ms. Rinderle should not be fired."

Cobb County adopted a rule barring teaching on controversial issues in 2022, 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."

Rinderle is believed to be the first public school teacher in Georgia to be fired because of the laws. None of the board members discussed the decision, but school district lawyer Sherry Culves said at the hearing that discussing gender identity and gender fluidity was inappropriate.

"The Cobb County School District is very serious about the classroom being a neutral place for students to learn," Culves said at the hearing. "One-sided instruction on political, religious or social beliefs does not belong in our classrooms."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.