A Wisconsin elementary school teacher has been placed on leave after she revealed on social media that administrators canceled a first-grade performance of Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton’s song “Rainbowland” because the district considers rainbows “controversial.”
When Melissa Tempel, a first-grade teacher at Heyer Elementary School in Waukesha, approached her classroom last week, district officials were waiting at the door to stop and inform her that she wouldn’t be allowed to teach, The New Republic reported.
On March 21, Tempel tweeted about the canceled performance, writing, “My first graders were so excited to sing Rainbowland for our spring concert but it has been vetoed by our administration. When will it end?”
Following Tempel’s leave, a group called Alliance for Education in Waukesha (AEW) has invited supportive parents and community members to attend a public singalong to “Rainbowland” and to attend a Wednesday district school board meeting to “show support for an inclusive Waukesha.”
The AEW says the district’s cancellation of the song’s performance is “a symptom of an ongoing pattern of bias, bullying of students, staff, and parents, and failure to appropriately document and respond to incidents of discrimination and harassment.”
This pattern allegedly includes failures to document workplace discrimination and harassment, implementing “inconsistent and confusing guidelines for policies that show bias against LGBTQ+ students and staff,” censorship of “diverse” classroom content and of book titles that aren’t even carried by school libraries, and more.
“This Superintendent and Board began the march toward marginalization last year, and it has only served to stoke fear and sow distrust in the Waukesha Community, which has yielded a pattern of bullying against anyone who calls out the district’s bias and harassment,” the AEW said in a Tuesday statement. “Now Waukesha is a national laughingstock, and the blame for that falls squarely to the feet of the district’s leadership, not those who have the courage to hold them accountable, like Ms. Tempel.”
The AEW pointed to the Waukesha school district’s recent passage of a Parental Rights and Transparency resolution, which says that teachers should only use students’ birth names and pronouns, unless otherwise directed by parents. The resolution also directs school officials to only allow students to access bathrooms and sports teams matching their sex assigned at birth.
It also pointed to Board Policy 2240 on Controversial Issues in the Classroom, a broad policy that has been used to ban rainbow designs from school decor and teacher lanyards because of their association with the LGBTQ+ community.
After news broke of the canceled “Rainbowland” performance, Heyer Principal Mark Schneider said that he and a school administrator had reviewed the song and found that it “could be deemed controversial” because of the policy. They didn’t say what content in the song was controversial since its lyrics don’t mention anything about LGBTQ+ issues.
Its lyrics state, in part, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live in paradise / Where we’re free to be exactly who we are / Let’s all dig down deep inside / Brush the judgment and fear aside / Make wrong things right / And end the fight … Oh, I’d be lying if I said this was fine / All the hurt and the hate going on here / We are rainbows, me and you / Every color, every hue / Let’s shine on through.”
Sebert and School Board President Kelly Piascek said the “subject matter addressed by the song’s lyrics” didn’t meet “the age and maturity level of the students” but added that they reviewed and upheld Schneider’s decision rather than forcing the performance’s cancellation.
Cyrus’ Happy Hippie Foundation responded to the song’s cancellation by donating to Pride and Less Prejudice, an organization that provides free “LGBTQ-inclusive books to Pre-K through 3rd-grade classrooms to help students and teachers.”
“To the inspiring first-grade students at Heyer Elementary, keep being YOU. We believe in our Happy Hippie heart that you’ll be the ones to brush the judgment and fear aside and make all of us more understanding and accepting,” the foundation said in a statement on Twitter. “In honor & celebration of your BRIGHT future Happy Hippie is making a donation to [Pride and Less Prejudice] to help make classrooms more inclusive!”
Meanwhile, parents are standing up for Tempel and slamming the district for its handling of the situation.
“Melissa is a wonderful teacher, and the fact that the district did not address this issue with her and with the school principal directly, but instead called her out in a communication to the entire district community is not only wrong but juvenile,” said another Heyer elementary parent told The New Republic.
AEW mentioned that when district Superintendent Jim Sebert was superintendent of Fond du Lac School District, “his administrative team routinely instructed LGBTQ+ staff not to disclose their LGBTQ+ identity to students” to avoid parent anger.
AEW has encouraged any student, parent, or staff member who feels their rights are being violated to contact the group so it may file a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Wisconsin Department of Public Education (DPI).