Tribunal disagrees with Cobb County School District’s decision to fire teacher

The logo on front of a Cobb County School District facilityCobb County School District sign (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

By Rebecca Gaunt

A tribunal of retired educators, appointed by the Cobb County School District, denied Superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s recommendation to terminate teacher Katie Rinderle for reading the book “My Shadow is Purple” to a class of gifted fifth graders.

The tribunal consisted of three former principals, John Kelly, Cheryl Davis, and Linda Keeney, who listened to two long days of testimony last week. Rinderle was represented by attorney Craig Goodmark. Attorney Sherry Culves represented the school district.

The picture book, by Australian author Scott Stuart, is described on the back cover as “a heartwarming and inspiring book about being true to yourself and moving beyond the gender binary.” 

The synopsis says, “My Dad has a shadow that’s blue as a berry, and my Mom’s is as pink as a blossoming cherry. There’s only those choices, a 2 or a 1. But mine is quite different, it’s both and it’s none.”

Rinderle purchased the book at her school’s book fair. After reading it aloud and having a discussion, students wrote shadow poems of their own.

Both Rinderle and her attorney argued that the purpose of the lesson was inclusivity and kindness, not gender identity.

The district removed Rinderle from her classroom at Due West Elementary in March after parents complained. She received a termination letter in June.

In a five-page document, the tribunal members marked whether they agreed with the district’s assertions. They also added statements and marked others out.

The members did agree with the assertion that the topic involved gender identity but specified the reason was because they/them pronouns came up during the class discussion. They did not agree with the district’s assertion that she was untruthful during the investigation about the nature of her lesson, but did believe she was untruthful when she said she wasn’t aware it was a sensitive topic. They also agreed she did not comply with district policies on supplemental materials or allow parents the chance to opt out.

The tribunal did not agree with the district’s assertion that “Rinderle’s actions have demonstrated a lack of coachability.”

Read the tribunal’s findings in full here.

“I appreciate the tribunal’s consideration of my case and decision not to terminate me,” Rinderle said in a press release from the Southern Poverty Law Center. “However, I disagree that I’ve violated any policy and that finding remains unjust and punitive. The district has never provided adequate guidance on how I am supposed to know what is and what is not allowed in the classroom based on these vague policies. Prioritizing behaviors and attitudes rooted in bigotry and discrimination does not benefit students and undermines the quality of education and the duty of educators.”

When the Cobb County School Board meets Thursday, it has the option to adopt, reject, or modify the tribunal’s decision.

Read more of the Courier’s coverage of Katie Rinderle here.

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.