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Florida teacher who showed Disney movie says she's under investigation

Jenna Barbee said she allowed students to watch "Strange World" because of its themes about the environment, not because it features a gay character.
Florida teacher who showed Disney movie says she's under investigation
Posted at 4:47 PM, May 16, 2023

A fifth grade teacher in Florida said she's being investigated for showing a Disney movie to her class. 

Jenna Barbee said she allowed them to watch "Strange World" because of its themes on the environment and taking care of the planet, not because it features a gay character.

"I don’t think it’s a focal point at all," Barbee said.

The first-year teacher at Winding Waters K-8 in Weeki Wachee said the screening prompted an investigation by the Florida Department of Education after a parent reported her.

This year, Florida expanded its law to ban instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity to all grades. 

Barbee got a letter saying the Department of Education is looking into her alleged misconduct to determine if disciplinary actions should be pursued.

"My students, they never noticed [the gay character]. I frankly did not notice at all," she said. "I had no idea it was going to be a big deal."

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Shannon Rodriguez is the parent who reported Barbee. She's a Hernando County school board member and her daughter was among the kids in attendance for the movie. 

"You showed a movie that wasn't sanctioned school material. Thus stripping the innocence of my 10-year-old," Rodriguez said in a school board meeting May 9th.

Rodriguez added that it's not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs on a child.

"As a parent, it’s my job to teach my child about the birds and the bees in relationships. And for me to decide at what age I want to embark on those conversations. But not following policy and procedure, Ms. Barbee stripped me of my right as a parent to have those conversations prematurely," she said. 

Barbee said she apologized to Rodriguez because she doesn’t want any student to feel uncomfortable, but she stands by the film’s message and her reasoning for showing it.

"My whole point of showing this is I preach positivity and kindness to my students every day. I preach acceptance for everything and everyone just for who they are every day. So I guess that’s why I didn’t see this was going to be such a big deal," she said. 

The Hernando County School District notified parents about the screening, saying it was "reviewing the matter to see if further corrective action is required."

The Department of Education would not comment on "pending investigations."

This story was originally published by Tim Kephart at Scripps News Tampa. 

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