Teacher fired for violating ban on LGBTQ content
Waukesha, WI – On July 12, nearly 800 people silently rallied to support Waukesha public school teacher Melissa Tempel. Waukesha Alliance for Education organized the rally and encouraged participants to wear black armbands. This is a subtle nod to Mary Beth Tinker, the lead plaintiff in the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District ruling, a landmark 1969 decision regarding censorship in education settings.
The Waukesha School District (WSD) held a hearing for Tempel, a teacher at Heyer Elementary School. Tempel was also a union representative within the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) Region 7. The hearing was held to consider the recommendation made for Melissa Tempel's termination. The rally was heavily monitored by Waukesha area police at the specific request of the reactionary Waukesha school board members.
This is following the denial from Tempel’s supervisor, the principal of Heyer Elementary, to use the song Rainbowland by Miley Cyrus (featuring Dolly Parton) in a school play. It then went to the school board where they said that the song was “too controversial.”
This decision comes after a ban that WSD introduced that censored material related to “Black lives matter'' and “Pride.” Upon the passage of this policy, WSD Superintendent James Sebert and Deputy Superintendent Joe Koch stated in a letter, “Our advocacy for curricular resources and support for learning are never ending, but our personal beliefs and convictions must stay out of the classroom.”
Tempel and other union teachers took a strong position in 2021 against the bans. The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (a WEAC affiliate), the National Educators Association and Free Little Library created a “Read Banned Books” campaign that focused on censorship policies in public schools.
The majority of WSD board members align with reactionary views. The Wisconsin Achievement Partnership (WAP) is a non-profit organization that is staunchly anti-union and anti-LGBTQ. WAP is an organization that most Waukesha school board members have strong ties to. The organization held a counter-protest in support of Tempel’s termination.
Tempel’s supporters argue that she was exercising her First Amendment rights. The right to free speech was seen across the many signs at the rally. Many of Tempel’s fellow educators at the event indicated that it’s important for them to show up for her because this could happen to any one of them.
In spite of the mass protest, the Waukesha School District board voted 9-0 to move forward with Tempel’s termination. She plans to follow up with a federal lawsuit focused on First Amendment violations. While the school board ruling comes as a disappointment, Tempel has an overwhelming number of supporters and fellow teachers willing to fight for what’s best for their students, and Tempel herself is committed to continuing the struggle, not only for herself but for her fellow educators as well as the students she cares deeply about.