Melissa Tempel’s first-grade class at Heyer Elementary School in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, has been practicing for weeks for their impending spring musical.
Tempel and her co-teacher, both dual-language teachers at the school, wanted the concert to have a global unity and peace message. They chose “It’s a Small World,” sung in Spanish, and “Here Comes the Sun,” by The Beatles.
Pupils were also scheduled to perform “Rainbowland,” a 2017 duet by Miley Cyrus and her godmother, Dolly Parton, with lyrics advocating for acceptance. Tempel began rehearsing with her pupils as soon as another faculty member offered the song, which Tempel and her co-teacher approved. The first graders, she explained, require as much time as possible to memorize the songs before the show, which will take place right before Mother’s Day.
“My students adored it right away,” Tempel said of her students’ reception to “Rainbowland.”
However, Tempel claims that the school administration asked her to remove “Rainbowland” from the show just one day after kids learned it. According to a school board guideline on difficult matters in the classroom, the district requested that the song be deleted in a statement because its lyrics “may be judged inflammatory.”
“Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in paradise, where we could be ourselves?” Cyrus and Parton sang. “I live in Rainbowland, and you and I go hand in hand.” Yeah, I’d be lying if I said everything was good here, with all the hurt and hatred.”
Cyrus and Parton’s representatives did not immediately respond to the associated press’s request for comment.
“It’s basically about if we could love one another a little better or be a little nicer, be a little sweeter, we could live in rainbow land,” Parton said of the song in 2017, while Cyrus remarked separately that the lyrics allude to “various colors, genders, and religions.”
“(It would be fantastic) if we all came together to create and said, ‘Hey, we’re different, that’s amazing, let’s not change to be the same, let’s stay different but join together nonetheless.’ “Because a rainbow isn’t a rainbow until it has all the different colors,” Cyrus explained to NME.
Tempel stated that “Rainbowland” is more than just a song.
“We’re attempting to promote inclusivity,” she explained. “I don’t think there’s anything political about the love and accepting piece, and being who you are.”
A “controversial issue,” according to the Waukesha school district’s policy, is one that “may be the subject of significant public debate” or has “political, social, or personal impacts and/or the community,” among other factors. When reached by the associated press, Waukesha school system Superintendent James Sebert declined to comment on why “Rainbowland” was considered contentious.
Rainbow iconography has been removed from school districts across the United States
Tempel, who is concerned that the ban on “Rainbowland” is part of a larger push to limit discussion of LGBTQ subjects in schools, claims that school officials have tried to eliminate other allusions to rainbows in schools. She stated that administrators urged teachers around the district last year to remove rainbow decor and stop wearing rainbow lanyards or apparel.
Sebert stated that some signs had been removed in compliance with the policy that resulted in the “Rainbowland” ban, although he did not specifically mention rainbow signage. According to the associated press, the district has its own “Commitment to Everyone” billboard in both English and Spanish to remind children that they are “respected,” “belong,” and “have a voice.”
The Waukesha County school board was more explicit in its guidelines on LGBTQ kids, issuing a resolution earlier this year that advises instructors to avoid using a student’s preferred nickname or pronouns unless they have written permission from the student’s parent.
School districts around the United States are increasingly restricting staff members’ rights to discuss LGBTQ issues with their pupils at all school levels. Teachers in Florida were barred from addressing sexuality and gender identity with pupils in kindergarten through third grade under legislation called “Don’t Speak Gay” by opponents.
The associated press reported earlier this year that school districts in Delaware, Ohio, and Wisconsin, among others, have prohibited faculty from wearing Pride flags. In addition, school districts in Texas, Louisiana, and Michigan have banned books with Gay characters or issues.
Teachers in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine School District have been barred from displaying Pride flags or using pronouns in their email signatures after school officials reinterpreted an old policy that prohibits “partisan politics, sectarian religious views, or selfish propaganda,” the associated press reported last year.
After “Rainbowland” was banned at Heyer Elementary, another staff member suggested Tempel and her co-teacher replace it with “Rainbow Connection,” Kermit the Frog’s famous anthem about hope and pursuing one’s aspirations. However, that song was also initially banned until parent members of the Waukesha Alliance for Education raised the ban with school personnel, and administrators subsequently reversed the ban, according to Tempel.
The performance will continue as planned, with children performing “Rainbow Connection” instead of “Rainbowland,” a decision that is “completely supported by the Superintendent,” according to the school district statement Sebert provided with the associated press.
Tempel and her colleagues are still committed to inclusivity
Samantha Siebenaller, a parent whose child is in Tempel’s co-class, teachers lauded Heyer Elementary staff for “their effort to establishing an environment where inclusion thrives despite the Board.”
In a statement, Siebenaller said that some Waukesha School Board members “embarrassed our community… with their lack of commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.”
The associated press has reached out to Kelly Piacsek, President of the Waukesha School Board, for comment.
Tempel, for one, hasn’t taken the rainbows out of her classroom. Her kids were disappointed to learn that they would no longer be singing “Rainbowland,” but she stays committed to demonstrating her support for inclusiveness in many ways. She used Twitter to protest the song restriction, calling hundreds of people’s attention to her school and its impending event.
She told the associated press that being there for the children she teaches is the most important thing to her: “making sure my students feel secure and supported at school and that their identities are recognized, no matter how they identify.”