First-Grade Teacher Who Called Out Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton's "Rainbowland" Ban Placed on Administrative Leave
A 2017 collaboration between Miley Cyrus and the iconic Dolly Parton, Rainbowland, which was featured on Cyrus' sixth studio album Younger Now, has courted controversy recently for its lyrics. According to Exclaim, administrators at a Waukesha, WI, elementary school had banned the song from being performed by first-graders in a school concert because they considered it too "controversial." Superintendent James Sebert said that the school board was concerned "whether it was appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students" and that they worried about the "social or personal impacts" on the children. He cited the school board's policy against discussing "controversial issues" in class.
During that time, educator Melissa Tempel spoke out against the ban, telling reporters that she chose the song because its message seemed "universal and sweet," and that banning it would lead to "confusing messages about rainbows" which are "ultimately creating a culture that seems unsafe towards queer people." Due to this, Tempel has been placed on administrative leave after district officials explained that the impetus for the ban "was around whether the song was appropriate for the age and maturity level of the first-grade students."
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? @waukeshaschools @DollyParton @MileyCyrus @mileyworld @gsafewi @CivilRights #publicschools pic.twitter.com/8Na0nETmDw— Maestra Melissa (@melissatempel) March 21, 2023
According to People, Heyer Elementary School dual language teacher, Melissa Tempel was placed on administrative leave, as per a statement of support for the educator released by the Alliance for Education in Waukesha (AEW). "This superintendent and board began the march toward marginalization last year," an AEW spokesperson said in the statement. "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. 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 Alliance for Education in Waukesha stands in support of Melissa Tempel, who is an outstanding educator: pic.twitter.com/aoUtMnwrUH— Alliance for Education in Waukesha (@EducateWaukesha) April 11, 2023
In an exclusive with the outlet, Tempel, a Milwaukee-area educator of 23 years, shared that teaching "was kind of a natural career choice." She first called attention to the song's ban on March 21. "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?" she wrote on Twitter.
People from Waukesha and around the country have showered their support for Tempel, and since the controversy, Rainbowland has climbed to its highest position ever on the U.S. iTunes charts at #51 last month. Additionally, Cyrus' Happy Hippie Foundation made a donation, in honor of the Waukesha first-graders, to Pride and Less Prejudice, which provides LGBTQ-inclusive books for pre-k through third-grade classrooms. Although Tempel said the donation "was amazing," she doubts Waukesha's conservative policies will allow any of the books to reach her students.
After learning that Tempel had been placed on administrative leave, a number of parents spoke out in defense of the "wonderful teacher." "She goes above and beyond to meet the needs of her students and engage them in learning," one parent was quoted as saying, according to AEW's statement of support. "I am deeply concerned that Ms. Tempel was removed from her classroom for standing up for them and what she knows is right."
Students, parents, and other supporters also gathered on Wednesday to sing Rainbowland with a choir ahead of a school board meeting. In their statement of support, AEW wrote, "It is time for Ms. Tempel to be returned to her students and for the district to take accountability for starting this mess in the first place simply because they wanted to keep rainbows out of a first-grade classroom."