This week, the Cobb County School Board voted down party lines, 4 to 3, to fire the middle school teacher, Katie Rinderle, who read a highly acclaimed, award-winning book about acceptance called, “My Shadow is Purple,” by Scott Stuart; a Scholastic book she purchased at her own school’s book fair. These men disregarded the formal tribunal of former educators they appointed, who issued a rejection of the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate. They also made this decision in direct opposition to the sentiment of the growing majority of Georgian parents who are concerned about book banning (77% percent of parents up 11 points since last May, when 66% were troubled).

This decision ignores the very ethos of Georgia’s public education system that it should be an environment of inclusion for our diverse population. Our schools should be places where students and families come together to learn to how to think, how to read, how to build healthy relationships based on respect, integrity, and inclusion. Our teachers have an important and trusted role in our schools to help inspire a love of reading, discussion, and critical thinking. It is precisely the role of the teacher to educate our children to build a sense of common purpose and learn how to value, recognize, and protect our common humanity.

However, in the face of Georgia’s House Bill 1084 Protect Students First Act, an anti-democratic bill passed in 2022, teachers are being told to avoid teaching about anything that might be considered “divisive concepts” – consider race, gender, class, climate change, history, biology, and science. Censoring our educators and books is an atrocious disservice to our communities, especially for our young people who deserve the freedom to learn.

I applaud and stand with Katie Rinderle, and all public school teachers, for continuing the hard and necessary work of teaching our kids about how to thrive and see themselves as included, valued individuals in Georgia. Teachers have a wonderful opportunity to help our students develop intellectual curiosity, joy of learning new concepts, and spur interest in seeing things from others’ perspectives to build empathy, resilience, and interest in lifelong learning. But this cannot happen if we legislate and build a culture of fear that leads teachers to stop conversations and limit inquiry.

I urge everyone to read this book for yourself, and then advocate that if we truly want to “protect our students first,” we must begin by protecting our public school teachers and repealing HB 1084 — a disingenuous bill that actually harms our students.