Jun 26, 2023 - Education

Cobb teacher fights to keep job after parent complains about book

Illustration of a stack of books with barbed wire wrapped around them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A Cobb County teacher is fighting for her job after a parent complained that a book in her classroom violates a state law banning the teaching of “divisive concepts.”

Driving the news: Katie Rinderle, a fifth-grade Due West Elementary School teacher, was informed earlier this month that the district plans to fire her following the complaint.

What happened: Craig Goodmark, Rinderle's attorney, told Axios that she purchased the book, "My Shadow Is Purple," from a district-approved book fair earlier this year and made it available in her classroom for students to read.

  • The book features a six-year-old child and tells a story of "being true to yourself and moving beyond the gender binary," according to its description.
  • Goodmark said one parent complained about the book, and the "administration went into action," removing Rinderle from the classroom.
  • Rinderle was told that the book violated the district's divisive concepts law and after an investigation, she was recommended for termination, which was first reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Flashback: House Bill 1084, which banned the teaching of divisive concepts, was signed into law last year by Gov. Brian Kemp.

  • It prohibits educators from teaching students that one race is superior to another and that the United States is "fundamentally or systemically racist," among other things.
  • The Cobb County Board of Education adopted new rules to comply with the state law, according to the AJC.

What they're saying: Goodmark said the district did not specify what content in the book was deemed to be divisive.

  • "Teachers are censoring themselves because they don't know what is and what isn't a divisive concept," he said. "Students are missing out on discussions because of that, and the classroom is going to be fundamentally altered because of the censorship rules."

The other side: The Cobb County School District told Axios in a statement that it "remains committed to strictly enforcing all board policy and the law."

  • "Without getting into specifics of the personnel investigation, the district is confident that this action is appropriate considering the entirety of the teacher's behavior and history," it said. "However, as this matter is ongoing, further comment is unavailable."

Of note: Goodmark said his client, who has been teaching for 10 years, has an "exemplary" personnel file.

Zoom out: More than a dozen states across the country have passed similar laws banning the teaching of so-called divisive concepts, which some conservative activists label as critical race theory, Axios' Russell Contreras previously reported.

The bottom line: Teachers are "absolutely chilled" by the district's response, Jeff Hubbard, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, told Axios.

  • He said the "poorly written" legislation takes away an educator's ability to teach children to think critically and creatively.
  • "It's very chilling in the fact that teachers now are having to watch what they say on anything because if one person gets offended and runs to the right people; that person can lose their career," he said.

What's next: A fair dismissal hearing will be held in early August to determine if the district's recommendation for termination will be upheld. If Rinderle is fired, she can appeal the decision to the State Board of Education.


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