Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus perform.
Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
A Wisconsin school district wouldn’t allow first graders to sing “Rainbowland,” a song about acceptance.
Melissa Tempel, a teacher, complained publicly about the decision and was eventually fired.
Tempel is now suing the district, arguing it violated her freedom of speech.
The firing was such a harsh blow — and illegal, the teacher argues — that she’s now suing them.
Attorneys for Melissa Tempel filed the lawsuit earlier this week, alleging the School District of Waukesha violated Tempel’s First Amendment rights. They demanded a jury trial and for Tempel, a first-grade dual-language teacher, to be reinstated in her job at Heyer Elementary School.
“I am devastated that I am not returning to school today,” Tempel said in a statement, released by her attorneys. “I am a life-long educator and I have missed my students since I was forced on administrative leave in April. To be preparing for a lawsuit instead of for the first day of school has been very difficult for me.”
Tempel was first placed on administrative leave after she tweeted in March that her first graders had been prohibited from singing “Rainbowland,” a song by Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton about love and acceptance.
“I just can’t not say anything anymore,” Tempel told Insider in April. “And if I have to lose my job, then at least I’ll be able to sleep at night knowing that I stuck up for kids.”
Tempel wrote the March 21 tweet “as a private citizen, during her off-duty time,” the lawsuit said, adding that the district and its superintendent violated Tempel’s rights by “retaliating against her for engaging in protected speech.”
As teachers and students returned from spring break on April 3, administrators and law enforcement met Tempel at the school’s front door, preventing her from entering.
They said she had broken the district’s policy on “controversial issues,” which was used to prevent employees from displaying items related to “Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Thin Blue Line, anti-racist, and other materials,” according to the lawsuit.
Tempel was finally fired in July after she had spoken to multiple news outlets about the situation.
Superintendent James Sebert wrote in a report cited in the lawsuit that Tempel’s public statements and disagreements with the district were “inappropriate” and “resulted in substantial disruption to the school environment.” He added that they violated the district’s employee handbook, including a policy called “Employee Expressions in Non-Instructional Settings.”
A spokesperson for the School District of Waukesha did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sebert, reached for comment, said the district would be consulting its own lawyers on how to move forward.