A self-described “teacher activist” was fired Wednesday after waging a lengthy, politically charged battle against the school district over LGBT advocacy in her 1st-grade class.
The controversy started when Melissa Tempel wanted her class to perform the song Rainbowland, a duet between Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton, at a school event. School leadership in Waukesha, Wisconsin, decided the song wasn’t appropriate for children.
Heyer Elementary School Principal Mark Schneider explained that because rainbows have become politicized, and because he didn’t want students to find inappropriate pictures of the singers, he asked Tempel to pick a different song.
Schneider’s decision also was in line with the district’s decision to ban politically charged imagery, whether liberal or conservative.
But Tempel, who claims to specialize in “race relations,” didn’t respect the district’s decision and tacitly accused it of being anti-LGBT. It wasn’t the first time she flaunted her own political views, as she had previously shown up for school picture day decked out in rainbow-themed garb.
Parents at the time expressed their frustration with Tempel’s barefaced activism.
“The majority of Waukesha does not want that stuff in the classroom,” Stacy Keene told The Lion. “From my perspective as a parent, it’s not about the song. It’s about this activist teacher in our schools that needs to leave it out of the schools, and not involve the district in her activism.”
Shortly thereafter, Tempel was placed on leave, but became a symbol for the nation’s largest teachers’ union. At their recent convention, members of the National Education Association bore signs of Tempel’s likeness that portray her as Rosie the Riveter and say, “Read Banned Books.”
Another similar image appeared on a playground parachute.
But the national attention ended up only hurting Tempel’s case when the Waukesha Board of Education discussed her employment on Wednesday.
“Ms. Tempel deliberately brought negative attention to the school district because she disagreed with the decision, as opposed to following protocol and procedure,” testified Superintendent James Sebert. “I believe that behavior is intolerable.”
The hearing resulted in Tempel’s termination, and she is now poised to sue the district.
“We’re disappointed with the board’s decision today, but we have everything we need in terms of a factual basis to file a First Amendment claim,” said Summer Mushid, Tempel’s attorney. “This is not a case about culture wars or rainbows. It’s a case of our constitutional rights and Ms. Tempel has them like every other person in this country. We are moving forward with next steps and Ms. Tempel looks forward to vindicating her rights in federal court.”
According to Wisconsin law, a teacher can be justly fired for the “willful and persistent violation of reasonable regulations of the governing body of the school system or school.”