After an hours-long public hearing on Wednesday, July 12, the Waukesha School Board voted unanimously to fire Heyer Elementary first grade teacher Melissa Tempel. The district concluded that she had violated policy by using social media and conducting media interviews to speak out about the district’s decision to not allow her students to perform the song ‘Rainbowland’ at a class concert.
“I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came today and everyone who sent me such sweet messages and support,” Tempel said after the decision.
The hearing included hours of testimony from district officials laying out their position for putting Tempel on administrative leave and then recommending her for termination. The vote to fire her was 9-0.
Principal Mark Schneider testified at the meeting that the issue was not the content of ‘Rainbowland’ itself, but he was worried that the artist, Miley Cyrus, could be considered controversial, leading him to not allow the song to be played. This was done in accordance with a school board policy about governs controversial issues in the classroom.
Schneider said he was working with the music teacher at Heyer to find a replacement, with the song ‘Rainbow Connection’ under consideration as an alternative, and that he was confused that Tempel never came to him with her concerns.
“I would expect that if there’s a concern or a question that there would be a conversation,” he said.
The district ultimately concluded that Tempel had violated school district policies, concluding that she was representing herself as a teacher and employee in both her social media posts about ‘Rainbowland’ and her interviews with local media outlets. Waukesha School Superintendent Dr. Jim Sebert laid out his reasoning for firing Tempel.
“She didn’t follow the various policies, specifically the one around employee concerns went right to social media, and tried to create as much negative attention for the school district of Waukesha as possible,” he said. “Which, in my opinion, is unacceptable and intolerable.”
Tempel, who has been teaching for 23 years, said that being a teacher is ingrained in her.
“At work from 8 to 4 during the school year, I’m a teacher at Heyer Elementary. But when I leave work, I’m still a teacher,” she said. “I’m not ending my job as a teacher because I leave the building.”
Tempel and her attorney have indicated that they will be suing the school district, alleging that her First Amendment rights were violated with her firing.
When asked if she would do anything different knowing the outcome, Tempel said, “Probably not.”