'Let the kids sing': Miley Cyrus producer, foundation reacts to "Rainbowland" ban at Waukesha school as officials deem "song lyrics" controversial
WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- After being thrust into both local and national spotlights following a decision to ban first-graders from performing a Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton duet from 2017, Heyer Elementary school officials in Waukesha have now revealed what specifically about the song caused them to remove it from the set list.
Despite administrators not returning media requests on Friday, CBS 58 obtained a copy of an email sent to stakeholders by Waukesha school district's board president and superintendent earlier in the day.
In the email, officials specified that "the subject matter addressed by the song's lyrics" is why they decided to ban the song "Rainbowland" from their first-grade concert, "especially in light of the age and maturity level of the students."
So, CBS 58's Ellie Nakamoto-White took the lyrics in question to Oren Yoel, the producer on "Rainbowland" who spoke exclusively with the station.
“Guys, this song’s about a rainbow and a Rainbowland, I mean this is so silly," Yoel said. "They wanna sing the song? Why are you holding off joy?"
While he couldn't speak on behalf of Cyrus or Parton, Yoel said his interpretation is that the song is about "love essentially and being in a world that you enjoy."
"By the way, Rainbowland was her studio at her house," Yoel said, referencing the brightly colored walls that adorn Cyrus' at home studio. “They’re trying to connect this to a cultural war thing, and I don’t think that’s cool, so I would say to them, knock it off frankly and let the kids sing.”
Last week I reported on a #Waukesha elementary school banning a @MileyCyrus@DollyParton duet. Tonight, a response from Cyrus’ nonprofit, the teacher involved, an exclusive message from the song’s producer and the specific reason the song was axed — only on @CBS58 at 5. pic.twitter.com/8aeTZ6FFrH— Ellie Nakamoto-White (@ellienw_news) March 31, 2023
The story was brought to light about ten days ago, when Melissa Tempel, a first-grade teacher at Heyer Elementary School in Waukesha, tweeted about the song's veto.
Since then, the ban has made several national headlines and appeared on news and radio outlets across the country -- even being referenced in a segment during The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday, March 29.
Word about the ban got around to Cyrus herself -- the Happy Hippie Foundation (HHF), a nonprofit founded by Cyrus in 2014, tweeting to Heyer students directly, telling them to brush the judgment and fear aside:
According to Happy Hippie's website, their mission is "to rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations."
A later tweet from HHF said they were making a donation to Pride and Less Prejudice to "help make classrooms more inclusive" -- an organization that provides LGBTQ-inclusive books to pre-K through 3rd grade classrooms.
CBS 58's Ellie Nakamoto-White sat down with Tempel, a nationally board-certified teacher who has worked at the district for the past five years, who said she was "overwhelmed" by the amount of attention the story has garnered.
“It’s bringing awareness to what’s happening in smaller school districts and what can happen. It’s pretty scary if you ask me," Tempel said.
After "Rainbowland" was banned, Tempel said administrators still allowed students to perform songs like "It's A Small World", "Rainbow Connection", and "Here Comes the Sun."
"[My students] were really sad and just wanted to know why," Tempel said. “I really didn’t expect it to happen, and I think that shows a lot about the bubble we live in sometimes and how these things can be normalized, where depending on the community you live in or the voices that are loudest within the community, and I think that’s what’s happened in Waukesha.”
Tempel said her goal is to make sure that children are safe and "feel healthy and welcome."
“This is an issue that affects not only the students that identify as part of the LGBTQ community, but all students who are part of a marginalized group that might not be represented by anybody," Tempel said.
According to Superintendent Sebert, the choice to remove the song was made by Heyer's Principal Mark Schneider and Melissa Yow, the director of elementary learning, after two inquiries from parents.
"It's baffling to me that those voices are being listened to over students," Tempel said.
In the email to stakeholders, officials noted that "due to national attention" they will be increasing security measures at Heyer and at an administrative building on Monday when students and staff return from spring break.
CBS 58 reached out to Waukesha Police Department Captain Dan Baumann, who said they are "well aware" of comments online and are working to investigate rhetoric.
In the last paragraph of the email, officials write:
This overall situation has been trying; placing undue burden on our school and district staff. This is a matter that should have been handled at the school level and in accordance with Policy 3179 - Employee Concerns. Steps are being taken to ensure that this matter is addressed in accordance with applicable Board of Education policies.
Tempel said she is working with legal counsel and does not know what her future looks like on Monday.
“Really, anything that happens to me will be worth it because I’ve been able to bring awareness to a topic that was really being silenced," Tempel said. “If my students see this, I really hope that they see that even if you’re just a teacher, you can speak out and your voice can be heard. It takes a lot of courage, but courage is contagious."