MADISON, Wis. – Administrators at a Wisconsin elementary school stopped a first-grade class from performing a Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton duet promoting LGBTQ acceptance because the song "could be perceived as controversial."
Students at Heyer Elementary School in Waukesha had prepared a rendition of “Rainbowland" for their spring concert, but school officials struck the song from the lineup last week. Parents in the district say the decision was made because the song encourages LGBTQ acceptance and references rainbows.
Superintendent James Sebert, who did not immediately return a call on Monday, confirmed to Fox6 that administrators had removed “Rainbowland” from the first-grade concert because it might not be “appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students." He also cited a school board policy against raising controversial issues in classrooms.
Sebert has previously prohibited rainbows and pride flags from being displayed in Waukesha classrooms and suspended the school district’s equity and diversity work in 2021.
“Let's all dig down deep inside, brush the judgment and fear aside,” the song from Cyrus' 2017 album “Younger Now” goes. "Living in a Rainbowland, where you and I go hand in hand. Oh, I’d be lying if I said this was fine, all the hurt and the hate going on here.”
First-grade teacher Melissa Tempel said she chose the song because its message seemed universal and sweet. The class concert's theme was “The World” and included other songs such as “Here Comes the Sun," by The Beatles and “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong.
"My students were just devastated. They really liked this song and we had already begun singing it,” Tempel said Monday.
Administrators also initially banned the song “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppets but later reversed that decision, according to Tempel.
Parents have been angered by the song's removal, Tempel said. But she was more concerned about what the ban and other district policies against expressing LGBTQ support meant for students.
“These confusing messages about rainbows are ultimately creating a culture that seems unsafe towards queer people,” she said.
Spokespersons for Parton and Cyrus did not immediately respond to emails on Monday asking the artists' thoughts on the ban.
Wisconsin school boards races, including in Waukesha, have become increasingly partisan in recent years. Republicans saw big gains across the state's school board races in 2022 and have used the positions to challenge policies from rules about transgender kids to COVID-19 restrictions.
Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Venhuizen on Twitter.