WAUKESHA, Wis. — A Heyer Elementary School teacher is now out of a job in the Waukesha School District.
Melissa Tempel said she has been a teacher for 23 years. She taught dual language to first-graders at Heyer Elementary. A public hearing Wednesday ended with her termination in a unanimous vote by the school board.
The controversy began when Tempel took to social media in March, posting her disappointment and concern with a song called “Rainbowland” that was being cut from the school’s spring concert.
“I want all of my students to know that even if they’re from a marginalized group, or a low-income household, or being discriminated against and don’t feel like they’re being heard that they do have a voice,” Tempel said at Wednesday’s public hearing.
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
Heyer Elementary School’s principal Mark Schneider said he and the school’s music teacher discussed the song in question. Schneider said he thought one of the song’s artists, Miley Cyrus, was too controversial for children of that age.
“I received an email from our music teacher, Jared Ziegler, wondering if the song ‘Rainbowland’ could be included in our spring concert,” Schneider said. “I told him to pick a different song because I thought the artist of the song could be controversial.”
Wednesday’s public hearing was standing room only. There was also a protest outside with dozens of people showing up in support of Tempel. A small counterprotest gathered in support of the Waukesha School District.
“I believe that the education within the Waukesha School District as well as all school districts should be concentrated on core subject matter,” said Matt Wellford at the hearing. “Our country as a whole is slipping in many areas of education.”
“I’m against her being fired because she’s simply exercising her freedom of speech,” said Jana Goodman, who is a parent within the district. “This is a protected thing by the Supreme Court.”
Tempel was put on administrative leave in April while the district investigated whether she violated any school policies with her posts. The investigation determined that she did.
“I thought the way in which she disagreed with this decision was in direct violation with multiple board policies and felt it was the appropriate thing to do at the time while this investigation took more time to conduct,” said Superintendent James Sebert.
Attorneys for Tempel and for the school district questioned school leaders and Tempel for more than four hours during Wednesday’s public hearing.
Tempel’s attorney tried to make the case that Tempel crafted these social media posts as a private citizen off the clock, expressing only her own viewpoints on her personal social media accounts.
The attorney for the school district questioned Tempel as to why she tagged the district, referenced Heyer Elementary and referenced herself as a teacher within the posts.
“I thought that the fact that the tweet I made about ‘Rainbowland’ not being allowed was something the public would be really concerned about and they’d be interested in knowing about it,” Tempel said. “People wanted to know where this was happening.”
Tempel also said in her 23-year career, she has never been disciplined professionally. Schneider admitted to giving Tempel a positive review during her last review period two years ago. He and district officials said Tempel’s actions caused disruptions and safety concerns.
Tempel’s attorney said they plan to file a lawsuit in the future.