Metro Weekly

First Grade Teacher Fired for Protesting “Rainbowland” Ban

Melissa Tempel was fired after she brought to light her school district's attempt to ban the song "Rainbowland."

Melissa Tempel – Photo: WDJT-TV

A Wisconsin elementary school teacher who protested her school district’s decision to prohibit students from singing the Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton hit song “Rainbowland” at their school concert has been fired.

The Waukesha Board of Education voted unanimously to terminate first-grade teacher Melissa Tempel on the grounds that she had violated three school board policies by tweeting about her feelings over the song ban before speaking with her supervisors and bringing negative attention to the school district after her tweets went viral.

“Ms. Tempel deliberately brought negative attention to the school district because she disagreed with the decision as opposed to following protocol and procedure and I believe that behavior is intolerable,” said Waukesha School District Superintendent James Sebert, who previously recommended in May that the Board of Education terminate Tempel.

Tempel’s tweets criticized the school district for banning her students from singing “Rainbowland” at their school concert.

While there are no explicitly gay or LGBTQ-related lyrics in the song, the lyrics speak of a world where everyone is accepted for who they are. But that overall message, and the alleged symbolism behind rainbows as a signifier of the LGBTQ community, upset some conservative parents and administrators who believed the song was “controversial” and might be seen as an attempt to “indoctrinate” children.

Tempel also noted that the school district, in targeting rainbows as a symbol of the LGBTQ community, initially banned the Jim Henson song “The Rainbow Connection” — made popular by the character of Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie — but later walked back that ban after parents, many of whom had grown up with the song, protested.

Following Tempel’s tweets in March, the school district received significant negative attention in national media, prompting Sebert to remove Tempel from the classroom and place her on administrative leave starting April 3.

Lawyers for the school board maintained that Tempel should have brought her concerns to supervisors and not tweeted about the song controversy.

Tempel’s lawyer argued that his client was exercising her right to free speech.

Tempel stood by her decision, arguing that she thought the public should know about the ban on rainbow-related songs and had an interest in learning about the lengths the conservative school district had gone to in attempting to censor certain words or idea.

Before the school board meeting, some parents and area residents held a silent protest in support of Tempel, while others at a smaller counter-protest said she should be fired, reports Milwaukee-based ABC affiliate WISN.

“We feel like Superintendent Sebert’s recommendation for [Tempel] to be fired, for her to be terminated, goes against her First Amendment rights as an employee of a public school district,” David Dringenberg, a member of the Alliance for Education in Waukesha, which led the silent protest, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“[T]here’s an attempt to silence teachers and we’ve seen it in other avenues. Whether it’s what they can wear in the classroom, pins that they can put on their lanyards, things like that. We’ve seen those First Amendment rights under assault before, but this is where the rubber meets the road.”

Sarah Schindler, whose child was one of Tempel’s students, also said the teacher should have been allowed to express her views on the song selections for the concert. 

“She has a right to her free speech.” Schindler said. “She’s a citizen of this country just like everybody else, and it shows that people support that.”

Following the board’s decision, Tempel’s attorney, Summer Murshid, told reporters that she and her client would be pursuing a future lawsuit against the district.

“This is not a case about culture wars or rainbows. It’s a case about constitutional rights, and Miss Tempel has them like every other person in this country,” Murshid said. “I think we are moving forward with next steps and Miss Tempel looks forward to vindicating her rights in federal court.”

Tempel thanked her supporters and, when asked for comment, sent a message to her former students.

“I really miss you guys and love you and wanted to be there with you this year,” she said. “I hope that we get to see each other really soon.”

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!