Florida 5th grade teacher ‘under investigation’ for showing Disney movie

Author: CBS Miami Staff
Published: Updated:
Poster for the 2022 Disney animated film “Strange World.”

A fifth grade teacher said she is being investigated by the Florida Department of Education after she showed her students “Strange World,” a 2022 animated Disney movie featuring a character who is biracial and gay.

Jenna Barbee, a teacher in Hernando County’s Winding Waters K-8 school, told her story in a widely viewed TikTok post over the weekend.

“I am the teacher that’s under investigation with the Florida Department of Education for indoctrination for showing a Disney movie,” she said.

In the video, Barbee explained she played the Disney movie to a class, which was only partially full after a day of standardized testing. She also said she had previously-signed permission slips from all the parents, allowing the students to watch a movie rated PG.

According to Barbee, a parent then complained and reported her to the Department of Education.

The parent who reported her, who is also a member of the Hernando County School District Board, complained to the principal about the movie not being appropriate for students, according to Karen Jordan, spokesperson for Hernando County Schools. Jordan also provided CNN with a copy of the announcement from the school district to parents.

“Yesterday, the Disney movie ‘Strange World’ was shown in your child’s classroom,” the school district said. “While not the main plot of the movie, part 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.”

The complaint is part of Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education legislation, signed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis, banning certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. While DeSantis and other supporters pushed the measure as a form of “parental rights,” opponents said it tried to erase LGBTQ people from schools and dubbed the law “Don’t Say Gay.”

The law initially banned instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade or in a way deemed not age-appropriate for all other grades, but it has since been expanded to limit such information all through high school. Teachers who violate the state policy can be suspended or have their teaching licenses revoked.

Disney was among those who spoke out against the law last year, spurring DeSantis and Florida Republicans to retaliate against the entertainment company by targeting their control over the land in and around its theme parks.

The animated film “Strange World,” released last year, told the story of a family of explorers and starred the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid and Lucy Liu. The movie also featured Disney’s first-ever out-gay character, voiced by comedian Jaboukie Young-White.

On May 9, Barbee addressed the school board members during public comment at a meeting. In attendance was the parent who had complained, school board member Shannon Rodriguez, she acknowledged 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,” said Barbee.

The teacher told district board members the movie was in no way sexual and was tied to the current lesson plan on the environment and ecosystems.

Barbee claimed in the meeting Rodriguez “came to my school [and] took me away from my students to tell me how bad and wrong I was.”

At the end of the school board meeting, Rodriguez said she called the Department of Education regarding the incident, which prompted the state investigation. She said her daughter is in Barbee’s class.

She said at the district meeting Barbee broke school policy because she did not get the specific movie approved by the school administration and said the teacher is “playing the victim.”

“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 said.

Rodriguez said, “As a leader in this community, I’m not going to stand by and allow this minority to infiltrate our schools … God did put me here,” she said.

Florida Department of Education press secretary Cassie Palelis said the complaint will be reviewed by an investigator, and an attorney will then provide a recommendation to the commissioner for the next steps.

“I understand that the individual in question has discussed her case publicly. However, we will not allow politics and media pressure to dictate our process,” Palelis said.

CNN has reached out to Rodriguez and the Hernando County School District for comment.

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