Metro Weekly

Florida Teacher Investigated for Showing Disney Film

Jenna Barbee is being investigated for showing her fifth-grade class "Strange World," a Disney movie featuring a gay main character.

Ethan Clade, a gay character in the Disney film “Strange World.” – Photo via Wikimedia

A Florida teacher has been placed under investigation by the state Department of Education for showing her fifth-grade class a Disney movie. 

Jenna Barbee, a teacher at Winding Waters K-8 in Brooksville, Florida, alleges that Hernando County School Board Member Shannon Rodriguez reported her to the Department of Education for showing her students the Disney movie Strange World, the first Disney movie with an out gay character.

Hernando County’s school district confirmed to the Tallahassee Democrat that a fifth-grade teacher is being investigated for showing Strange World after receiving a parental complaint that the movie was inappropriate. They did not name Barbee specifically.

Speaking during the public comment period of the Hernando County School Board, Barbee defended showing the film as a tie-in to her students’ Earth science lesson, and asserted that it did not contain sexually inappropriate content, reports the Tallahassee Democrat.

Barbee added that the film was rated PG and that every student in her class had a signed parent permission slip allowing them to watch PG-rated movies. 

“The word indoctrination is thrown around a lot right now, but it seems that those who are using it are using it as a defense tactic for their own fear-based beliefs without understanding the true meaning of the word,” Barbee said in her remarks.

The investigation into Barbee appears motivated by the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics, prohibiting discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Both the Florida Legislature, and the Florida Department of Education, through a rule governing “professional conduct” by teachers, recently expanded the prohibitions on LGBTQ content to apply from kindergarten through eighth grade, with only select instances in which such subject matter can be broached in grades 9-12.

Teachers who violate the law can potentially be suspended or even have their teaching license revoked. 

Opponents of the law argued that it’s overly broad and would lead to further examples of censorship when it comes to works featuring LGBTQ characters or themes.

Disney’s Strange World, released last fall, depicts a group of explorers who go searching for an exotic plant that serves as their society’s main source of energy.

The main character, Ethan Clade, is gay and develops a crush on another male character. Upon its release, it was criticized by conservatives who called it an attempt to indoctrinate children into either identifying as or being accepting of members of the LGBTQ community. 

Disney — which is currently suing the state of Florida, alleging Gov. Ron DeSantis targeted it in retaliation for publicly opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” law — has refrained from showing Strange World in various global markets, including the Middle East, China, Indonesia, Turkey, Nigeria, Uganda, and other countries because of the inclusion of an LGBTQ storyline.

“In countries where we operate, we seek to share our stories in their original form as we and the artists involved have created them. If we make edits, because of legal or other considerations, they will be as narrow as possible,” Disney says in its Human Rights Policy, which was updated last year. “We will not make an edit where we believe it would impact the storytelling. In that circumstance, we will not distribute the content in that market.”

Rodriguez, the conservative school board member whom Barbee claims filed the complaint against her, asserted that Barbee broke school policy because she did not specifically get approval from school administrators to screen Strange World, and accused her of “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,” Rodriguez, whose daughter is in Barbee’s class, said. “But allowing movies such as this assist teachers in opening a door, and please hear me, they assist teachers in opening the door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.”

Rodriguez also said she has called the Florida Department of Education about other concerns with alleged indoctrination in schools, asserting that children should not be used as pawns in advancing a socially liberal political agenda, reports CNN.

“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.

Barbee, the daughter of a Florida judge, told the Tallahassee Democrat that, as a first-year teacher, she’s heard from her more senior colleagues have told her that the level of interference by politicians in the classroom is much worse nowadays.

“Times have changed so much and they are so micromanaged, they’re not allowed to teach anymore,” she said. “They’re basically a caregiver who has to teach the standards,” she said. “Teachers stay for the children, but because of the laws and the fear of being let go for saying one wrong thing, they can’t connect to their students.”

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