A Picture Book About Gender Identity Got a Georgia Teacher Fired. Now She’s Suing

The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) and two individual teachers are suing Cobb County School District, arguing that administrators unconstitutionally used “vague censorship policies” to fire one of them for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Northern District of Georgia, alleges that CCSD and nine of its officials improperly fired teacher Katherine Rinderle after she read My Shadow is Purple, a picture book about a gender-nonconforming child, to her elementary school class in 2023. The district used newly adopted policies that ban “divisive,” “controversial,” and “sensitive” topics to quickly fire Rinderle last spring, the suit claims, even though administrators never actually defined what an inappropriately “sensitive” topic might be.

Rinderle is joined in the suit by fellow CCSD educator and GAE member Tonya Grimmke, whose employment is also threatened as a result of the policies, the lawsuit states, contending that the district’s policies violate both the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX anti-discrimination law. Both teachers are seeking damages, and are also asking the court to enjoin the district from enforcing those policies against other teachers.

“The school board’s decision to fire me undermines students’ freedom to learn and teachers’ ability to teach,” Rinderle said in a press release announcing the lawsuit Tuesday. “Many CCSD educators, including Ms. Grimmke and I, are committed to creating inclusive, diverse and empowering environments free from discrimination and harm, ensuring LGBTQ+ students feel safe, affirmed, and centered in their learning journey, because that is what our children deserve.”

Some CCSD officials not only turned a blind eye to ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ bullying in their schools, but expressed such intolerance themselves, the lawsuit also alleges. Administrators and other teachers “knowingly and intentionally” deadnamed multiple trans and gender-nonconforming students over the past five years, the suit claims. Meanwhile, at least three high-ranking CCSD staffers have been tied to Gary DeMar, a far-right Christian activist whose group “American Vision” has called for the execution of LGBTQ+ people. Chris Dowd, named as a defendant in the suit as CCSD’s executive director for employee relations, is also noted to have been an Atlanta police officer before working for CCSD — in particular, one of the officers who illegally raided an Atlanta gay bar in 2009, a case the city eventually paid over $1 million to settle.

Although the suit does not call for an injunction against any Georgia laws, it does note that CCSD’s ban on “sensitive” topics was the result of three 2022 laws — HB 1084, HB 1178, and SB 226 — which collectively placed heavy new restrictions on books and how schools can teach about race, gender, and sexuality. Right-wing activist groups have ramped up efforts to ban LGBTQ+ books from schools in recent years, with “parental rights” laws in states like Florida clearing the way. Last year, California legislators bucked the trend by passing a law that prohibits banning books from schools based on subjects like race, sexuality, and gender.

“The district’s vague and discriminatory censorship policies are rooted in bigotry and have no place in our schools,” said SPLC Senior Supervising Attorney Mike Tafelski in Tuesday’s press release. “We will continue to hold the district accountable for its ongoing unlawful conduct which harms our students, teachers and community.”

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