In a surprising turn of events, a fifth-grade teacher from Hernando County’s Winding Waters K-8 school finds herself under investigation by the Florida Department of Education. Jenna Barbee, the teacher at the center of the controversy, recently took to TikTok to share her story, which quickly gained significant attention.
“I am the teacher that’s under investigation with the Florida Department of Education for indoctrination for showing a Disney movie,” Barbee expressed in her widely viewed TikTok post over the weekend.
Barbee explained in the video that she had shown the 2022 animated Disney movie “Strange World” to her class. It should be noted that the classroom was only partially occupied following a day of standardized testing. Moreover, Barbee made sure to obtain previously-signed permission slips from all the parents, granting consent for their children to watch a movie rated PG.
However, despite her adherence to protocol, a parent who also happened to be a member of the Hernando County School District Board lodged a complaint against her. The parent expressed concerns about the movie’s appropriateness for students, according to Karen Jordan, the spokesperson for Hernando County Schools. Jordan further provided CNN with a copy of the school district’s announcement to parents regarding the incident.
“Yesterday, the Disney movie ‘Strange World’ was shown in your child’s classroom,” the school district’s announcement stated. “While not the main plot of the movie, parts of the story involves a male character having and expressing feelings for another male character. In the future, this movie will not be shown. The school administration and the district’s Professional Standards Dept is currently reviewing the matter to see if further corrective action is required.”
This complaint falls within the realm of Florida’s controversial legislation, signed into law last year by Governor Ron DeSantis, which restricts certain types of instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. Proponents of the law, including DeSantis, argue it upholds “parental rights,” while critics contend that it erases LGBTQ individuals from educational settings, dubbing the law as “Don’t Say Gay.”
Initially, the law prohibited instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for kindergarten through third grade, or in a manner deemed inappropriate for other grade levels. However, it has since been expanded to restrict such information throughout high school. Teachers found in violation of the state policy may face suspension or even revocation of their teaching licenses.
Interestingly, last year, Disney itself expressed opposition to this law, prompting DeSantis and Florida Republicans to retaliate against the entertainment company by targeting their influence over the land surrounding its theme parks.
“Strange World,” the animated film in question, released in 2022, recounts the adventures of an explorer family and features the voices of renowned actors like Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, and Lucy Liu. Notably, the movie introduces Disney’s first-ever openly gay character, voiced by comedian Jaboukie Young-White.
On May 9, during a public comment session at a school board meeting, Barbee addressed the board members, revealing that the parent who had complained was none other than school board member Shannon Rodriguez. Barbee acknowledged Rodriguez’s presence during the meeting.
“A school board member, an elected official of power, who was supposed to be nonpartisan, is allowed to present to the public that she is Christian and that God appointed her to the board. And yet it is indoctrinated that I showed a Disney movie. I’m a first-year teacher,” Barbee emotionally expressed her concerns.
Barbee, during the meeting, argued that the movie was in no way sexual and was directly tied to the ongoing lesson plan about the environment and ecosystems.
Alleging inappropriate conduct, Barbee claimed that Rodriguez “came to my school took me away from my students to tell me how bad and wrong she believed Barbee’s actions to be. Tensions escalated during the meeting as both sides presented their arguments.
In the end, Rodriguez accused Barbee of breaking school policy by not obtaining specific approval from the school administration before showing the movie. She also criticized the teacher, claiming she was playing the victim in this situation.
“It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child: religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above. But allowing movies such as this assist teachers in opening a door, and please hear me, they assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms,” Rodriguez passionately asserted.
She continued her statement, affirming her stance as a leader in the community and vowing not to let what she perceived as a minority group infiltrate their schools. Rodriguez’s words carried a sense of determination and conviction as she boldly stated, “God did put me here.”
As the complaint is now under review by the Florida Department of Education, the press secretary, Cassie Palelis, assured that an investigator would thoroughly examine the case. Following the investigation, an attorney will then provide a recommendation to the commissioner regarding the next steps to be taken.
In the midst of this controversy, CNN reached out to both Rodriguez and the Hernando County School District for comment. However, no response has been received as of yet, leaving many eager to hear their side of the story.
This incident sheds light on the ongoing struggle surrounding education and the delicate balance between curriculum and personal beliefs. The clash between the rights of parents, the expectations of school boards, and the freedom of teachers to explore relevant topics within the classroom has ignited a heated debate.
As the fate of Jenna Barbee, the dedicated and passionate first-year teacher, hangs in the balance, this case serves as a poignant reminder of the complex issues surrounding educational policies and the importance of open dialogue to bridge the gaps between differing perspectives.