Melissa Bollow Tempel is an excellent bilingual teacher in Waukesha, Wisconsin, loved by students and parents. Her classroom is a model learning community, welcoming all students, nurturing their growth, celebrating their accomplishments. Rather than being applauded, Melissa is on the cusp of being fired.
The reason? As one of the parents from her class put it, Melissa “was removed from her classroom for standing up for [her students] and what she knows is right.” According to Waukesha school authorities, Melissa’s crime was her use of a song for the 1st-grade spring concert called “Rainbowland” by Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton. It calls for ending “… All the hate going on here…” and “livin’ in a rainbow land where you and I go hand-in-hand.” The children loved it. When the school district banned the song from the concert, Melissa tweeted her concern.
The school district superintendent placed Melissa on administrative leave. He now proposes her termination for violating Waukesha’s Board Policy 2340 regarding “Controversial Issues in the Classroom.” The school district appears to argue that urging an end to hate is not in line with the “age and maturity of the students.”
Waukesha is just the most recent example of escalating efforts across the country by extreme conservatives to censor teachers who want to support LGBTQ+ students and their families and promote an end to racism and other forms of bias.
We at Rethinking Schools know and celebrate Melissa Tempel’s work. She is thoughtful, hard-working, funny, joyful, and deeply committed to young people — and to public education. As a former Rethinking Schools editor, Melissa has written articles in support of LGBTQ+ students and co-edited the book Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality — a resource used by teachers and teacher educators across the United States and Canada. Before teaching in Waukesha, Melissa taught in Milwaukee Public Schools and also trained staff in antiracist, anti-bias practices and curriculum.
Melissa Bollow Tempel and her students are the immediate victims. But the issue is larger than one teacher’s job, or even the welfare of her students. As Melissa pointed out, terminating her would have “a chilling effect on … other educators in the Waukesha community” — and across the country.
These dangerous policies of Waukesha school officials — and so many others in the United States — deny students the freedom to learn. They force schools to out LGBTQ+ students before they are ready, deny transgender students access to restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender, and ban transgender students from playing school sports. The right-wing frenzy also seeks to prohibit books enlightening students about our nation’s long history of racial injustice and resistance.
We urge you to be in solidarity with Melissa Bollow Tempel in fighting this injustice.
What you can do:
Contribute to the Go Fund Me campaign to support Melissa: here.
Contact the Waukesha superintendent and school board members to object to Melissa’s suspension and proposed termination:
Superintendent Dr. James Sebert: