“Rainbowland,” a song by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus that celebrates acceptance, was recently banned from a spring concert set list at a Wisconsin elementary school.
Sarah Schindler’s first-grade daughter came home from school last week, eager to show her mom the songs she’d be performing in the spring concert. She pulled up the songs on YouTube, Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie,” and a song she’d never heard before — “Rainbowland,” by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus.
Schindler said they were excited: “We love Dolly Parton!”
But a few days ago, her daughter returned home from school, and as soon as she walked through the door, she broke the news. “We can’t sing it anymore. We can’t sing ‘Rainbow Connection’ and we can’t sing ‘Rainbowland.’”
Schindler promptly reached out to Melissa Tempel, her daughter’s teacher, as well as the principal of the school, and phoned the school district superintendent. She was told the administration had nixed the songs, deeming them controversial.
Tempel, a first-grade dual language teacher at Heyer Elementary in Waukesha, Wis., appeared to be just as upset as Schindler and her daughter. On Tuesday she tweeted, “My first graders were so excited to sing Rainbowland for our spring concert but it has been vetoed by our administration. When will it end?”
According to Schindler, the school board had “a conservative flip” in recent years following community uproar over COVID-19 mitigation strategies. “With that have come some policy changes that have been causing some controversy in our community,” she told The Times over a phone call on Friday.
“One of those is a controversial topics policy saying that teachers can’t have any kind of signage that could be deemed political. … Discussion of pronouns with students was another thing that came up. And teachers aren’t allowed to wear rainbows.”
Tempel wrote on Twitter “4 years ago we had an active diversity team and had @sharroky as our district equity consultant. Now we are Florida.”
Leigh Radichel Tracy is another Waukesha resident with children enrolled in the district who spoke with The Times about the ongoing controversy in the community. “The School District of Waukesha has really cracked down on anything LBGTQ,” she told The Times via Facebook Messenger. “So this song being an ‘issue’ has not in any way come as a surprise.
“My daughter is 17 and has been in the marching band community for four years. It’s a very welcoming community for kids that are LBGTQ. She has a lot of friends that identify as part of that community so it hurts her deeply,” she continued. “All that Miley and Dolly are saying is that they want to live in a world that is accepting, with no judgment and where people can be who they want to be.
“It’s so sad that this is seen as a ‘controversial issue’ by the School District of Waukesha. It’s a song about a beautiful place of acceptance.”
Lyrics to “Rainbowland” include the lines, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live in paradise / Where we’re free to be exactly who we are,” and “Let’s all dig down deep inside / Brush the judgment and fear aside.”
Schindler said that she thought the fuss over the first-grade concert was silly, and that rainbows had always been associated with springtime. She listened to the Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton song and couldn’t understand why it would be considered controversial.
“I know, Miley Cyrus kind of has a past, in the spotlight with, you know, talking about drug use, and sexuality, and all of that,” she said. “And Dolly Parton supports drag queens, and you know, that’s another thing going about in our country these days.
“It feels like, because of these extreme policies that have been put into place by our school board in the past year or two, that administration, principals and teachers are now starting to second-guess all of their choices,” Schindler continued.
According to a Thursday tweet from Tempel, Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection” was reinstated in the set list after parents complained to administrators.
But, according to Schindler, Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus’ “Rainbowland” remains banned, deemed too controversial for first-grade students.
The Times reached out to Waukesha school district Supt. James Sebert for comment, but he did not immediately respond.