Cobb County School District denies reading bowl canceled; CCAE president confirms it’s off

Drawing of a stack of books

By Rebecca Gaunt

Students in Cobb County School District will likely miss out on the annual Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl this year due to recent events, including the firing of a teacher and the removal of two books across the district.

Katie Rinderle terminated for reading “My Shadow is Purple”

The teachers and media specialists who organize and work with students to practice and participate in the competition are volunteers.

An email circulated on social media earlier today from the Cobb reading bowl co-chairs letting the coaches know that “out of an abundance of caution, and in light of recent events, we regret to inform you we will be unable to offer a Cobb Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl this year.” 

The district has denied the accuracy of the email, and said the specifics are being investigated.

However, Jeff Hubbard, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, confirmed to the Courier that he spoke with two members of the steering committee Friday and they do not plan to move forward with the competition this year.

He said it was a “difficult decision” for them, but necessary in the current environment.

In a CCAE press release Hubbard wrote, “The cancellation of this year’s HRRB is unfortunate, yet understandable.”

One of the books removed by the district this week was the book “Flamer” by Mike Curato. It was used in the 2021-2022 HRRB competition. Books selected for the HRRB comes from a list of the annual Children’s Book Awards competition hosted by the University of Georgia, according to Hubbard.

At least one book selected for the current statewide competition has LGBTQ+ themes. Another is about book banning and censorship of sexual materials and critical race theory.

“No teacher or media specialist in Cobb County should risk their professional career given the current climate knowing that one complaint could bring their Cobb career to an immediate end similar to last week’s Katie Rinderle termination,” Hubbard wrote.

He also said he tried to address reading bowl concerns with the district weeks ago while Rinderle’s case was still pending.

Hubbard asked for three guarantees in an Aug.7 email: that no teachers would face discipline for their use of the books in the competition, that schools could participate if parents’ signed a permission slip acknowledging possibly controversial material, and that the district officially sign off on the books.

He did not get a response.

There have been suggestions by parents on social media to form a team independent of the school district.

Hubbard also addressed the fact that the two books, “Flamer” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews were removed from schools last weekend without following county policy after a representative for Libs of Tik Tok contacted the district.

Libs of Tik Tok complaint behind books’ removal in Cobb schools

“CCAE firmly believes…that all CCSD policies and administrative rules must be followed in their entirety to ensure fairness and transparency to all stakeholders,” he wrote.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.