News (USA)

5th grade Georgia teacher fired for reading “divisive” book about acceptance

Katherine Rinderle
Katherine Rinderle Photo: Southern Poverty Law Center screenshot

An elementary school teacher in Georgia has been fired for reading a “divisive” book about acceptance to her 5th-grade class.

She bought the book, My Shadow is Purple, at the school’s own Scholastic Book Fair.

Katie Rinderle, who taught gifted students at Due West Elementary School in Cobb County, is the first teacher in the state to be fired under a trio of censorship laws passed in Georgia in 2022.

She was terminated on June 6.

According to Rinderle, in March she read My Shadow is Purple, an international best-selling book by Australian author Scott Stuart, to her 5th-grade class after students voted overwhelmingly to hear it.

The story is about a boy who doesn’t have a blue shadow like most boys or a pink shadow like most girls. Instead, his shadow is purple: He plays with boys’ and girls’ toys, dances ballet alongside other girls, and competes in soccer alongside other boys. Where he wears a combination skirt and suit to his school dance, he feels excluded from the boys and girls… until various classmates reveal that their own shadows are also different colors like yellow, orange, green, and silver.

After reading the book, Rinderle asked her students to reflect on the book’s message of acceptance and write a poem about it.

“My shadow is white, an underestimated thing,” one student wrote. “When mixed with colors, it can do amazing things, but left by itself, it’s kinda bland.”

Another wrote, “My shadow is purple, and now I do know, that everyone’s different, and not to be woe, when my heart glows, and tells me to see, it’s fine to be me.”

The next day, a student’s mother complained to the school’s principal, assistant principal, and the area superintendent.

After being summoned to the principal’s office for two separate meetings, Rinderle was put on administrative leave, told to pack her things, and warned not to set foot on campus while the school district investigated.

Less than a month later, officials gave Rinderle the choice to resign for violating district policy. She refused and was fired.

Now she’s fighting to get her job back. A public termination hearing is scheduled for August 3.

“None of the reasons given by the district for Katie’s termination are based in fact or sufficient to justify the termination of this exceptional teacher,” Craig Goodmark, an attorney representing Rinderle, told the Southern Poverty Law Center

“Georgia public schools need teachers like Katie, and Cobb County seems more interested in playing politics than educating young people. It’s a shame,” Goodmark added.

Rinderle says the school cited the “divisive” subject matter in My Shadow is Purple as the reason for removing her from the classroom.

“School districts label certain topics ‘pornographic’ and ‘divisive,’” Rinderle said. “Yet when I asked what ‘divisive concepts’ means, they said they didn’t know and told me they would research it. They never told me.”

Georgia passed a trio of censorship laws in 2022 including the Protect Students’ Rights Act, commonly known as the “divisive concepts” law; a “Parents’ Bill of Rights”; and another known as the “harmful to minors law,” which calls for the removal or restriction of instructional materials that any parent may deem “pornographic” or “harmful.”

“It’s so important to teach children to be supportive of each other, true to each other and to themselves,” Rinderle said. “The lives, experiences, and self-identities of students should be validated and celebrated. Children are especially harmed when they are not made to feel loved, appreciated, and validated for who they are and their uniqueness.”

Rinderle isn’t the only victim of the state’s censorship crusade.

“My daughter broke down in school and had to have a private session with the school counselor to work through her emotions,” one parent shared after her daughter was informed her teacher was “gone for good.”

“Ms. Rinderle’s class was one of the highlights of her school week,” the parent continued. “In her absence, my daughter described the class experience as ‘chaotic’ and ‘lacking direction.’ She no longer enjoyed it.”

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