Last July, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a series of controversial education laws into law on the pretext of “keep bright politics out of the classroom.” These included a law that gave parents more control over school library choices and another that banned vaguely defined “divisive concepts” from classrooms.
Around the same time, PEN America published a monthly update on “educational gag orders,” including Georgia’s “divisive concepts” law. With such legislation, the authors argued, “the vagueness is the point.” Finally, overly ambiguous restrictions can prove most repressive.
Georgia public school teacher Katie Rinderle has been fired from Due West Elementary in Cobb County for reading her fifth graders a book she bought at a school book fair. She experienced this grim fact firsthand. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), she is the first victim of Georgia’s educational censorship laws.
Rinderle told The Daily Beast that she came across Scott Stuart’s “obnoxious” book My Shadow is Purple at Due West’s Scholastic Book Fair in February.
The story revolves around a young college student who has both traditionally male and female interests (sports and dance, toy trains and toy ponies, etc.) and defies the gender binary symbolized by the child’s titular purple instead of pink or blue. The shade.
When she is finally asked to choose between ‘pink’ and ‘blue’ at a school dance, the troubled child’s classmates come to her aid, eschewing dichotomy and celebrating her individuality regardless of the color of her shadows. The story ends with her teacher exclaiming, “Whatever color you are [sic]start dancing, have fun!”
Parents at Due West Elementary said their children were worried and confused about the departure of teacher Katie Rinderle.
In short, it’s a fictional, rhyming picture book with a message of acceptance of yourself and those around you—the kind of harmless work that Scholastic might be expected to sell (and distribute educational materials for) at his book fair.
Rinderle thought it conveyed “a wonderful message,” not unlike other books she had in her classroom, she told The Daily Beast. “I knew I had to get it.” Her fifth graders, made up mostly of 10- and 11-year-olds, were also intrigued by the story. (On one particular day, they voted overwhelmingly for “My Shadow Is Purple” when they were given a choice of unread books in the classroom.)
After Rinderle read the book, students discussed his messages of “acceptance of self and others” and “acceptance of diverse experiences” before writing poetry to “make their own connections and reflections.”
But this lesson in self-acceptance and tolerance apparently upset the mother of a student who also happens to work for the district. Rinderle told The Daily Beast that the mother “wrote a couple of long letters giving me her professional and personal opinions.” [about the book] be divisive and the subject matter inappropriate.” (Rinderle’s attorney provided The Daily Beast with an edited screenshot of one such email, in which the parent stated, “I would consider anything in the LGBT and queer genre divisive. )
Such complaints were also made to the Headmaster, the Deputy Headmaster and the Superintendent. “That led to me being sent on administrative leave,” Rinderle said. An investigation followed, and on May 5, the Due West teacher learned that she would be recommended to be fired.
“According to PEN America, teachers across the country are currently battling vague bans on education, such as Georgia’s ‘divisive concept’ law, which is currently in force in 19 states.”
“You speak of an exemplary teacher [who] would go the extra mile for her students,” Rinderle’s attorney, Craig Goodmark, told The Daily Beast. “Her combination of compassion and skill made her someone we should emulate, not terminate.” Rinderle, who has worked for the Cobb County School District for a decade, reportedly received enthusiastic feedback from her principal before her release.
Rinderle recalls being puzzled during meetings and fact-finding conferences in March at the district’s lack of transparency about what she was being censured for. While school officials made references to “divisive” and “inappropriate topics,” reports the SPLC, Rinderle said she was left in the dark about how she violated county guidelines.
“My experience was very unclear along the way, [in regard to] What exactly was “divisive”? [about the lesson, as] They kept repeating themselves during our meetings,” she told The Daily Beast. Goodmark noted that Rinderle once “asked” a school administrator “directly,” “What does the divisive concept mean to you?” She received no response then and has not received to this day.
“It’s not clear what a divisive concept is. It is unclear [what] The Cobb County policies that incorporate these laws…mean. And it’s particularly unclear because Katie asked them what they mean and they said they couldn’t tell us,” Goodmark told The Daily Beast. This confusing dilemma, he said, is because “the state came up with these censorship laws for teachers.”
The principal of Due West Elementary wrote many notes praising teacher Katie Rinderle.
When school districts began incorporating such laws into their policies last year, they met with significant opposition from teachers and other critics. At the time, ostensibly to allay educators’ fears, the Cobb County school principal assured teachers that they were “in no danger — not at all” as long as they followed the county-approved teaching materials, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
However, the firing of Rinderle for reading a book she bought within the walls of Due West Elementary School sends a very different message.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, a Cobb County School District spokesman said the district “remains committed to strict enforcement of all board policies and the law” and “is confident that this action is appropriate given the teacher’s overall behavior.” History.” However, the district could not comment further on the matter as the “matter is ongoing.”
Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks at a campaign event in Kennesaw, Georgia on November 7, 2022.
Indeed, Rinderle and Goodmark will be fighting for their position in the district in a resignation hearing scheduled for early August. However, it will be an uphill battle – as Goodmark explained: “We fear that we are subject to a standard that is not defined with any degree of certainty in the articles of association.”
Rinderle told The Daily Beast that she remains primarily concerned with “the lasting impact this is having on students and teachers,” adding that “many educators fear and don’t have a clear understanding of retaliation from these vague laws.” how best to serve the students.” [them].”
“These laws have created a state where teachers censor themselves … discussions of what someone has called a ‘controversial’ topic,” Goodmark said. “And that’s bad for public schools, that’s bad for Georgia, and it’s especially bad for Georgia students.”
And, of course, the problem goes beyond the classrooms of the Peach State. According to PEN America, teachers across the country are currently battling vague teaching bans, such as Georgia’s “divisive concept” law, which is currently in force in 19 states.
The pernicious effects of these restrictions imposed by Republican legislatures are evident when they are directed at educators like Rinderle. But when one considers that there are countless others who resort to self-censorship to avoid conflict – and who are certainly made more suspicious by cases like Rinderle’s – the full extent of the damage they are doing remains largely unquantifiable.