AP U.S.

Georgia tribunal rejects recommendation to fire teacher over controversial book

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A trio of retired educators has rejected a suburban Atlanta school district’s recommendation to fire a teacher who was removed from the classroom after she was accused of improperly reading a book on gender fluidity to her fifth-grade class.

Monday’s move paves the way for Due West Elementary teacher Katie Rinderle to keep her job. But the Cobb County School Board has the final decision, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The panel reached a decision after a two-day hearing last week about whether Rinderle should be fired for reading the picture book “My Shadow is Purple” by Scott Stuart. 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.

Officials in Cobb County, Georgia’s second-largest school district, argue Rinderle broke the school district’s rules against teaching on controversial subjects and decided to fire her after parents complained. She is believed to be the first public school teacher in Georgia to face termination under the regulations modeled after new state laws that require teachers to get preapproval to bring up potentially sensitive topics in the classroom.

But a district-appointed, three-person tribunal that heard the case denied the district’s recommendation to terminate her employment.

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“I appreciate the tribunal’s consideration of my case and decision not to terminate me,” Rinderle said in an emailed statement to the newspaper through 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.”

The school board will have the choice to adopt, reject or modify the tribunal’s decision during Thursday’s school board meeting. Board Chair Brad Wheeler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the board would discuss the case this week.

“The board will review the tribunal’s recommendation and looks forward to returning our entire focus on educating all of our talented students,” a spokesperson for the school district said in an email.

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