A Wisconsin elementary school administration told a first-grade teacher that her class could not sing a song by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus that celebrates acceptance because it might be controversial. The song’s title, “Rainbowland,” seems to be the source of the problem.
A Heyer Elementary teacher in Waukesha suggested the song “Rainbowland” for the upcoming concert, so the music teacher asked the school’s principal whether it was appropriate.
Concerned enough to inquire further, the principal checked with the school district about the tune’s appropriateness. However, the district’s central office deemed the song too controversial after reviewing it under District School Board Policy 2240. This policy addresses “controversial” topics in the classroom.
The school district said there was a suggestion from the music teacher to use a different song. So district officials now say first-graders will sing “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit The Frog. That song was also initially banned from the program, most likely because of the rainbow title. However, an uproar from parents caused the district to reverse the scrapping of the childhood favorite.
According to Melissa Tempel, the first-grade teacher, elementary kids have a spring concert every year where they can showcase their talents. This year, she tells The Advocate, the music teacher sat with her and suggested several titles, from Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and the Disney theme park ride’s “It’s a Small World” to the Muppet’s “Rainbow Connection” and Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton’s “Rainbowland.”
Officials at the school did not elaborate on the potential controversy surrounding the song. Its name, however, includes the word “rainbow,” and in a school district taken over by right-wingers, this word and all things colorful seem to be taboo.
The School District of Waukesha wrote in a statement that it would have no further communication about the Heyer Elementary situation, but that “this entire matter has been reviewed, and the outcomes are fully supported by the Superintendent,” adding, “at no time was the Board of Education involved in this matter.”
Tempel is a bilingual elementary educator with 20 years of experience. She holds a master’s degree in cultural foundations of education. A collaboration with Rethinking Schools, an equity and racial justice publisher, gave her the opportunity to co-edit two books: Pencils Down and Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality.
While choosing not to criticize board members personally, Tempel said that the right-wing takeover of the local school boards has resulted in hostile policies toward LGBTQ+ students, teachers, and their families.
Due to a recent policy change, preferred pronouns are no longer acknowledged or permitted in Waukesha schools, and multiple colors on masks and lanyards are prohibited. That’s to avoid being misconstrued as showing solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community which is considered political, she says.
Tempel notes that the district’s ban on rainbow signs and using certain words affects students’ sense of belonging, particularly in middle and high school.
In addition, due to uncertainty about how much teachers can say, teachers struggle to support students questioning their gender identities and facing discrimination, she says.
A recent GLSEN survey reinforces the reality that the LGBTQ+ community and public school teachers are not indoctrinating students nationwide into a radical liberal sexualized agenda.
The study found that topics around LGBTQ+ issues are rarely discussed in a structured way in schools, but if those subjects are addressed, they greatly benefit the young people exposed to the information.