First graders banned from performing ‘controversial’ Miley Cyrus-Dolly Parton song
A Wisconsin elementary school banned a first grade class from performing the Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton duet “Rainbowland," deeming it too "controversial" for the classroom.
Melissa Tempel, a first grade teacher at Heyer Elementary in Waukesha, Wisconsin, tells TODAY.com her students were excited to perform "Rainbowland" at their upcoming Spring concert.
"It's just a really good song about peace, love, appreciating diversity and getting along, and my students liked it so much," Tempel says.
The 44-year-old educator says she flagged the song to the school's music teacher, who asked the school's principal, Mark Schneider, if the song was appropriate for the concert.
"The principal checks in with the administration above him, and then he was told we couldn't sing it," Tempel explains. "We were really disappointed at that point."
TODAY.com reached out to Schneider and Heyer Elementary administration for comment, but did not hear back at the time of publication.
A press release from the Waukesha School District's public relations and communications office confirmed Schneider "checked with a central office administrator so they could review the song together and alongside our Board Policy 2240 — Controversial Issues in the Classroom."
"They determined that the song could be deemed controversial in accordance with the policy," the statement said, adding that the decision was "fully supported by the Superintendent" but that "at no time was the Board of Education involved."
The Cyrus-Parton duet, which debuted in 2017, promotes concepts like cooperation and friendship. At the time, Parton told Taste of Country the ballad was “really about if we could love one another a little better or be a little kinder.”
“It’s really just about dreaming and hoping that we could all do better,” she said. “It’s a good song for the times right now.”
On March 29, in a series of tweets, Cyrus' Happy Hippie Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the LGBTQ+ community and homeless youth, shared its support for Tempel, her colleagues and their students.
"To the inspiring first grade students at Heyer Elementary, keep being YOU," the tweet read. "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 organization also announced it would be donating to Pride and Less Prejudice, an organization that provides free LGBTQ age-appropriate books to classrooms from preschool to third grade, in "in honor and celebration" of the students' "bright future."
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 🌈
— Happy Hippie Foundation (@happyhippiefdn) March 29, 2023
Tempel says her students were heartbroken when they learned that they could not perform the song they had originally chosen.
"When I told them, they were just so sad," she says. "They kept asking: 'Why? Why?' It was really hard — I had to say I didn't know."
But Tempel believes she does know why the song was deemed "too controversial" for her students to perform, citing a district-wide policy banning "political signs" from classrooms, including the rainbow flag, "Black Lives Matter" and "safe space" signs.
"It wasn't surprising to us," she says. "That's why this is so important to talk about — this has been normalized, so people don't realize anymore how shocking it is and how unbelievable it is ... all these things have just kind of happened very gradually over the past two years and that's how we've come to this.
"We've created a climate where an administrator feels the need to ask about a beautiful song just because there's the word 'rainbow' in it," Tempel adds.
The School District of Waukesha did not cite a reason the song was deemed too controversial or provide any additional information as to why the song met the criteria. TODAY.com reached out for comment but did not hear back.
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
As an alternative, Tempel and her fellow educators selected Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection" for the students to perform — a song, she says, that was also initially "taken off the concert list."
"We were just floored at that point, because it seemed so bold to blatantly ban two songs that have the word 'rainbow' in them," Tempel adds. "Both of which have a really positive message that's completely appropriate for first grade."
It wasn't until parents "put pressure on the principal and the superintendent," Tempel says, that the administration reversed their decision and students were allowed to perform "Rainbow Connection."
The school district press release confirms the song "Rainbow Connection" was selected, adding that "it will be performed as part of the upcoming first grade music concert along with other pieces of music."
Tempel also points to the newly-enacted "parental rights and transparency" resolution as to why she's now teaching in a climate that would ban songs featuring the word "rainbow."
The resolution, passed unanimously by the School District of Waukesha Board of Education in January, 2023, prohibits teachers from calling students any "names, nicknames or pronouns" that are not "consistent with the student’s biological sex, without written permission from the parent."
"I'm just so angry," Tempel says. "This has gone way too far. The students had no warning that it was going to happen. The teachers, luckily, are kind people who understand that it is seriously traumatizing."
One 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that when trans youth use their chosen name, it reduces their risk of experiencing depression and suicidal ideation.
Why Rainbowland? My guess:
The beautiful LYRICS. Because saying an ARTIST is controversial would be a very slippery slope and they wouldn’t want to go there. Amirite? @MileyCyrus @DollyParton @waukeshaschools #rainbowland pic.twitter.com/TRtImB8c1R
— Maestra Melissa (@melissatempel) March 26, 2023
Despite her love for her profession and how much she says she "loves being in the classroom," Tempel, who has been teaching for 23 years, says policies like the "parental rights and transparency resolution" have caused her to question how long she can remain a teacher.
"I would like to stay where I am and improve the situation, but at a certain point I'm going to have to prioritize myself and make sure that I'm healthy," Tempel says. "I absolutely love my school and I love my students and I love the families here — I would would never want to leave, if it wasn't for all these new policies."
More than 600,000 U.S. educators have quit over the last two years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. One 2022 survey conducted by National Education Association (NEA) found that 55% of teachers are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned, citing a "startling level of stress and burnout."
Tempel says the only thing keeping her going, in addition to her devotion to her students, is the many messages of support she's received after speaking out.
"I've had so many parents from my district send me messages of support, saying they're just so proud of me," she says. "I'm thriving off of those message right now, because it's just a relief — it feels like those voices are in the minority, but I don't believe that they are."
This article was originally published on TODAY.com