The educator says none of her students batted an eye at the PG movie, which includes a single gay character, and believes they were more traumatized by being interrogated by state officials.
A Florida school teacher is under investigation by the state Department of Education over claims of “misconduct” after she showed her class the Disney animated movie Strange World, a 2022 film rated PG that includes a single gay character.
Jenna Barbee, a fifth grade teacher at Hernando County’s Winding Waters K-8 school, said she was turned in by the daughter of parent and school board member Shannon Rodriguez, a member of the right-wing activist group Moms for Liberty that has been on a nationwide effort to ban a range of books from classrooms.
The first-year teacher, who is also a new mother, explained in the over six-minute video that she played the movie because she wanted to give the students a “brain break” after a morning of standardized testing.
‘Just Being Accepting’
Strange World (2022), a movie about a group of explorers, features Ethan Clade, voiced by Jaboukie Young-White, the first-ever out-gay character in a Disney film. However, Barbee said she did not show the film in class because it featured an LGBTQ+ character. Rather, she believes the story relates to the curriculum about “science and ecosystems and how they interact — plants, humans, animals…”
“What a better way to showcase all these standards along with huge lessons of overcoming differences, spreading kindness, communication and chasing your dreams,” she said. “Not pushing anything, just being accepting, that’s what I do.”
Notably, the film includes no sexual or inappropriate content and the only depiction of intimacy are brief embraces between Clade’s heterosexual parents—which Rodriguez did not express any objection about.
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The incident comes just weeks after Florida’s state education board voted to expand a controversial law banning instruction about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The law, first passed last year, initially only applied to kindergarten through third grade classrooms, but will soon cover all grades through high school. Any teachers who violate the policy can be suspended or have their teaching licenses revoked.
But as independent journalists at Popular Information reported, the policy—which does not go into effect until May 23—does not mean that showing a movie that simply includes an LGBTQ character translates to teaching about “sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Nonetheless, Rodriguez contacted the school’s principal and reported Barbee to the Florida Department of Education, which then sent Barbee a letter informing her that she was being investigated for “alleged misconduct.”
“They Didn’t Even Know This Was a Big Deal”
Barbee noted that parents had signed permission slips allowing the school to show PG-rated movies “with no objections to specific content.”
But at a public-school board meeting on May 9, Rodriguez accused Barbee of violating school policy by “showing a PG movie without approval.” Rodriguez also suggested that the act of showing a film with a gay character somehow taught her child “about the birds and the bees,” (a topic that does not come up at all in the film) and “stripped the innocence” from her daughter.
Rodriguez also suggested that by showing the PG-rated film, Barbee was somehow indoctrinating students.
“Movies such as this assist teachers […] in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms,” she 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.”
Barbee says that none of her students “cared or batted an eye” about the film’s content. “They didn’t even know this was a big deal until the board member and the state made it a big deal,” she said, adding that it’s been more traumatizing having an investigator from the Florida Department of Education interrogating them.
“They don’t even have to have a signed parent permission slip for that,” Barbee added on TikTok. “An investigator is allowed to come and interrogate them? Are you kidding me? What is that showing them?”
While the investigation continues and Barbee’s fifth graders are interrogated, the school has already told parents that Strange World will no longer be shown in the school.
“I Worry About the Kids”
Rep. Rita Harris (D-44), a Democrat from Orlando, believes that DeSantis’ policies stoking the “culture wars” are placing undue hardship on educators who are already overworked and underpaid, and warned that his agenda could lead to a further exodus of teachers from the state.
“Teachers have enough right now to grapple with, and this is just one more thing that we’re putting on them,” Harris told Floricua. “I’m concerned about the quality of education students are going to receive when there are not enough teachers to teach them,” she added, referring to Florida’s teacher shortage.
According to the Florida Education Association’s (FEA), there were 5,294 teacher vacancies in Florida in January 2023.
“I really wish that instead of focusing on these type of distracted culture wars, we can invest in our public schools and make sure that every kid gets a good quality education.”