LISTEN: On the Wednesday, Feb. 14 edition of Georgia Today: Gov. Brian Kemp sends National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border; current and former Cobb County teachers sue the school district over what they call "classroom censorship;" and Savannah officials celebrate the return of an iconic feature of the city's waterfront.

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB news. Today is Wednesday, Feb. 14. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, Gov. Brian Kemp sends National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Current and former Cobb County teachers sued the school district over what they call classroom censorship. And Savannah officials celebrate the return of an iconic feature on the city's waterfront. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Story 1:

Peter Biello: Gov. Brian Kemp is sending more National Guard soldiers to help Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's effort to control illegal crossings on the U.S.-Mexico border. GPB's Sarah Kallis reports, the move yesterday comes after the Georgia House and Senate passed resolutions supporting the action.

Sarah Kallis: Kemp says he will send 15 to 20 additional troops to Texas, in addition to the 29 Georgia guardsmen already stationed there.

Brian Kemp: We will send reinforcements to Texas this spring, who will assist with the construction of a forward command post on the border with Mexico. This group of well-trained soldiers will include those with engineering, mechanical and general purpose skills.

Sarah Kallis: This announcement comes after U.S. Congress failed to meet a bipartisan deal on border security. Kemp blamed the White House and says it's time for states to step in. Several other Republican governors have also pledged National Guard support to Texas. For GPB News, I'm Sarah Kallis at the state Capitol.

The Delta checkout line in Atlanta.

Story 2:

Peter Biello: More than 100 members of Congress have signed a letter to the Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, urging the company to not interfere with employees' efforts to form a union. GPB's Amanda Andrews has more.

Amanda Andrews: Lawmakers want Delta to adopt a neutrality agreement ahead of any vote to unionize. Organizers have been working for over a decade to unionize Delta employees, but began a fresh effort in November 2022. James Carlson is with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. He says even with high base pay and profit sharing, Delta employees don't have the benefits a union contract secures.

James Carlson: They get less vacation pay. They get less holidays. They don't have the overtime rules that we have. So when — when you add it all up, these Delta workers are getting shortchanged. And they know that.

Amanda Andrews: Delta is the only U.S.-based air carrier where most flight attendants, mechanics and fleet service personnel are not represented by a union, while pilots are. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.


Story 3:

Peter Biello: Additionally, Delta Air Lines announced its employees will receive $1.4 billion in annual profit sharing. The company says checks going out today amount to 10% of employees' eligible earnings. Nearly $600 million will go to employees based in Georgia.

Story 4:

Peter Biello: The state Senate has passed a bill that would exempt gun safety devices from sales taxes. The measure cleared the chamber yesterday with only one "no" vote. Bill sponsor Marietta Republican Kay Kirkpatrick says she hopes it will encourage more gun owners to practice safe storage around children.

Kay Kirkpatrick: All of us want to protect our children from accidental injuries, including those of us who are lawful gun owners. This bill is simply an incentive for lawful gun owners to purchase safe storage devices, including firearm safes and firearm safety devices such as trigger locks, by exempting them from Georgia sales tax.

Peter Biello: The bill would cost the state about $1.6 million and local governments about $1.4 million in annual revenue. A similar bill is advancing in the House.


Story 5:

Peter Biello: In business news, Coca-Cola has reported a 7% rise in revenue in the fourth quarter. That's higher than expected for the Atlanta-based beverage giant, as growth in Mexico, Germany and other markets offset lower sales in the U.S.

Story 6:

Peter Biello: And a nuclear power plant in East Georgia has begun splitting atoms in the second of its new reactors. Georgia Power says the reactor at Plant Vogtle reached self-sustaining nuclear fission in a key step toward providing carbon-free electricity. The company says many tests remain before the reactor is expected to begin commercial operations sometime before June 30. Another new reactor began commercial operation last summer, joining two older reactors at the site southeast of Augusta.


Story 7:

Peter Biello: Savannah officials today celebrated the return of an iconic feature of the city's waterfront. A play tugboat for kids was installed on the Waterfront Plaza in 1977, part of a massive revitalization on the Savannah River. That play tugboat fell into disrepair and was removed five years ago. Now, a new ADA-accessible play tugboat beckons children. Savannah architect Eric Meyerhoff designed the plaza, a major turning point in the city's transformation into a tourist destination. Before he died in 2020, he told GPB he got the idea for the play tugboat from a honeymoon trip to Copenhagen.

Erik Meyerhoff: There was a little boat on the sand at the waterfront and these kids would get in the boat. Consequently, my great contribution to Savannah is the little riverboat at the at the riverfront where kids can play.

Peter Biello: His daughter, Margo Meyerhoff, spearheaded fundraising efforts to build and install the new tugboat.


Story 8:

Peter Biello: Authorities continue searching for a City of Albany employee who went missing while collecting water samples from the Flint River. It's not clear if 36-year-old Darius Stevens fell into the river or went missing some other way, but multiple agencies are focusing their search on the Flint River, where heavy rainfall began swelling levels and quickening currents on Monday, when he was last seen near the river.


Story 9:

Peter Biello: Voters in West Georgia have chosen a new state senator. Former state House member, Republican Tim Bearden of Carrollton, won the majority of votes yesterday, according to final, unofficial results. He replaces Mike Duggan, who resigned to run for Congress. A state House seat near Augusta is headed to a runoff. Gary Richardson of Evans and C.J. Pierson of Grovetown will face each other in March. They finished first and second in the five-candidate field vying to replace former state Rep. Barry Fleming.


Story 10:

Peter Biello: The Savannah Book Festival kicks off tomorrow ahead of a busy Saturday lineup of more than 30 authors. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports on a few of the event's special guests.

Benjamin Payne: A hero's welcome is expected at the Savannah Theater Saturday morning for John Berendt. The New York-based writer will take to the stage to discuss his iconic nonfiction bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the true crime travelogue is widely credited with supercharging Savannah's tourism economy.

John Berendt: I didn't think that it was going to be anywhere as popular as it's turned out to be. There were a few grumbles, but one reviewer called it a love letter to Savannah, and I have no quarrel with that.

Benjamin Payne: Other guests of the festival include DeKalb County author and attorney Michael Thurmond. He's out with a new book about James Oglethorpe, who founded the colony of Georgia and who, as Thurmond puts it, went on a journey from slave trader to abolitionist. The festival opens Thursday night with an address by British thriller author Ruth Ware. For GPB News, I'm Benjamin Payne in Savannah.

Fifth grade Due West Elementary School teacher Katie Rinderle is shown seated in this posed photo.

Cobb County fifth grade teacher Katie Rinderle was terminated in August 2023 for reading her students the book “My Shadow is Purple” by Scott Stuart.

Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center

Story 11:

Peter Biello: A Cobb County teacher fired for reading a book to fifth graders that included a gender nonconforming character, is suing the Cobb County School District. Katie Rinderle, a current teacher in the Georgia Association of Educators, all argued in the lawsuit that the district's policy is vague and its training on the policy is inadequate and therefore no teacher should be fired for violating it. Craig Goodmark is an attorney for the teachers and he is with me now. Welcome back to the program.

Craig Goodmark: Thanks for having me, Peter.

Peter Biello: The heart of the lawsuit is that the policy is vague, that there's no written definition that spells out what it means to be "divisive," "controversial," or "sensitive." Is it not within the rights of policy makers to use broad terms and then follow up later with a panel, who can then use their judgment to assess whether something fits those terms?

Craig Goodmark: When you're an educator and public educator like Katie Rinderle, Tonya Grimke, you have a right to your job. You have a property interest in your job. And if that property interest or your job is subject to being taken from you, you have to have fair warning as to why. The policies that Cobb County has passed — and certainly they are within their right to pass policies regarding things like curriculum, but those policies have to give fair warning to educators for things they can and cannot do.

Peter Biello: Meaning, if a school says that they don't want LGBTQ characters in books read aloud to children, they need to say as much before a teacher goes into a classroom with that book.

Craig Goodmark: A teacher needs to have notice before they can be fired for a violation of a policy. And policies like the censorship policies of Cobb County has passed don't provide that notice. Katie Rinderle, even when she was being investigated, had no idea what the scope of the terms "controversial," "sensitive" or "divisive" were. And so just on the facts of her situation alone, we see that there was no fair warning. There was no notice. These policies are vague.

Peter Biello: Katie Rinderle is one plaintiff. You mentioned the other, Tonya Grimke. She's suing in part because of this uncertainty and how the policy has impacted her ability to do her job. Can you tell me more about that?

Craig Goodmark: Tonya Grimke and the members of the Georgia Association of Educators that are working in Cobb County are teaching in fear. They don't know the limits of these policies. And they've seen this policy be enforced for illegal reasons. So they teach every day without understanding and without having been trained as to what the scope of these policies will be. And having now seen an educator be fired, that sense of fear and that chilling aspect of the policy is now stronger than ever.

Peter Biello: Overall, you're alleging that Cobb County has, by siding with the parents who argued that anything regarding those who identify as LGBTQ is divisive, they've effectively made discrimination against those people a matter of policy. What is the remedy you're seeking for that?

Craig Goodmark: We're seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. We want a judge to sit and read these policies and declare that they are unconstitutional because they do not give fair warning. We want a judge to declare that the actions taken against Katie Rinderle and enforcement of those policies constitutes sex discrimination, a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It's critical that this Cobb County issue be elevated. Because justice wasn't handed out in Cobb County, we have to seek justice elsewhere.

Peter Biello: Overall, is what's happening in Cobb County part of a larger trend?

Craig Goodmark: Sure. I think the lawsuit itself is reflective of a larger trend in Georgia, which is ... outsiders, people outside of education, [are] creating an environment of fear for public educators. And the Georgia Association of Educators and the National Education Association are involved in this lawsuit because it's censorship policies like Cobb County that are being replicated across our state and that are chilling the ability of educators to do their job, which is, you know, as you know, Peter, one of the hardest jobs there is to be a public school teacher, and they've just made it that much harder.

Peter Biello: Attorney Craig Goodmark, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Craig Goodmark: Glad to be here, Peter. Thank you.

Peter Biello: And we reached out to Cobb County Schools for comment. A spokesperson said, quote, "while we have no comment on ongoing litigation, we're proud to be a district to be focused on the Georgia standards and what children need to know and do."

Peter Biello: And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. If you want to learn more about any of these stories, visit And the best way to stay on top of the news is to subscribe to this podcast. Do it now and we'll be back in your podcast feed automatically tomorrow. And if you've got feedback or a story idea, let us know by email. The email is I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.


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