Wisconsin teacher who spoke out about 'Rainbowland' ban says she is being terminated

 First grade teacher Melissa Tempel, who spoke out about the decision of Waukesha Schools in Wisconsin to ban "Rainbowland" by Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton from a spring concert, said the district's superintendent has recommended she be terminated from her job.

Tempel said she was informed on Monday by superintendent James Sebert. In an email, Sebert told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a member of the USA TODAY Network, on Wednesday that he was unable to comment on the personnel matter.

The recommendation is in the wake of the school's decision to ban "Rainbowland," which has caught the attention of national media outlets, a Cyrus' nonprofit, and even former President Barack Obama, who followed Tempel on Twitter shortly after she spoke out

First grade dual-language teacher Melissa Tempel said the school superintendent in Waukesha, Wisconsin, recommended she be terminated from her job.

Tempel is currently on leave from the district after being placed on leave on April 3. At the time, Sebert referred the Journal Sentinel to an assistant superintendent responsible for human resources, who declined to comment.

Sebert's recommendation would require approval from the Waukesha School Board. The Journal Sentinel contacted Kelly Piacsek, the school board's president, but did not immediately get a response.

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Last month, Wisconsin state school superintendent Jill Underly sent a letter to Sebert and the school board saying she was "deeply troubled by the harm caused" by the district's decision to ban the song, and that the district should reverse course on its decision to enforce its Controversial Issues in the Classroom policy.

The policy, according to a letter Sebert sent in 2021, bans the use of Pride, Black Lives Matter, Thin Blue Line and "any other posters or materials to the such" from classrooms. Sebert said the decision to ban the song was because it violated the policy.

Sebert also said in March the decision to pull the song was based on "whether it was appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students" and because of "social or personal impacts" on them.

Underly, in her letter, stated, "Whether you realize it or not, you are, under the guise of protection, causing undue harm to students and staff. However, this damage is reversible. It is paramount that you change course now."

"The decisions you have made as district leaders have intensified the stressors our teachers feel and helped create and continue to perpetuate a toxic environment," she wrote.

Jill Underly, Wisconsin superintendent of public instruction, has said Waukesha Schools' decision to ban u0022Rainbowlandu0022 from a spring concert has u0022helped create and continue to perpetuate a toxic environment.u0022

Underly's letter led to a response from Sebert and state Republican lawmakers who said Underly needs to be mindful of local control.

"As a former School Superintendent yourself, you know how critically important local control is for Boards and administrators to meet the varied needs in their communities," Sebert wrote back to Underly. "As the State Superintendent, you likely realize that with over 400 school districts in Wisconsin, one size does not fit all on any given topic."

Four Waukesha County state legislators — Rep. Scott Allen, Rep. Adam Neylon, Sen. Chris Kapenga and Sen. Rob Hutton — sent a letter to Underly as well, saying they were "proud" of the school district and its actions. "Your letter also undermines local control," the lawmakers added.

Wisconsin teacher says removing her from the classroom has been 'traumatic' for her students

Tempel said a district administrator told her she should not speak with other staff, students, parents or members of the public about her leave, but when she found out on Monday that she was recommended to be terminated from her job she decided to release a statement.

Tempel released the statement through the Alliance for Education in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a group of parents who in April said they are seeking a state Department of Justice investigation into Sebert, accusing him of discrimination of LGBTQ+ students and staff following a series policy changes and actions.

Former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin James Santelle said in April that he advised the alliance and suggested filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the administration, saying district policies violate the First Amendment.

In her statement, Tempel said removing her from the classroom had a "harmful" and "traumatic" impact on the students at Heyer Elementary School.

"My students’ parents, many of whom speak Spanish, did not receive any information about my absence or when I would return, even when they asked for it directly," Tempel wrote. "As recently as last week some of them didn’t know that I was placed on administrative leave.

Waukesha, Wisconsin, School Superintendent James Sebert

"This is not normal procedure during a teacher’s absence and doesn’t prioritize the emotional or academic well being of my students. ... It will take me a long time to process how cruel the District’s actions were to those families and the chilling effect my termination will have on any other educators in the Waukesha Community."

Tempel said she has been a teacher for 23 years. "I have been consistently held up as a model educator," she wrote. "I am an award winning, National Board Certified Teacher who was rated 'distinguished educator' by my administrators for three years in a row. Last year, I was named Outstanding Educator by Wisconsin Badgers Athletics and WEAC. I have never had disciplinary action taken against me.

"I remain committed to the work I have done throughout my life and career, both inside and outside the classroom, as an activist, advocate, and ally. I believe we need to have conversations in our communities about how to make sure our schools are inclusive spaces where our students feel safe and can focus on learning."

Tempel said she will be pursuing a "First Amendment claim," but it's unclear if that will be a federal lawsuit.

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