Florida teacher under investigation for showing Disney movie with gay character

Published: May. 16, 2023 at 1:16 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(CNN) - A fifth grade teacher in Florida says she’s under investigation by the state after she showed her students the Disney animated feature “Strange World,” which features a gay teen romance.

First-year Florida teacher Jenna Barbee says she showed her fifth grade class the Disney movie “Strange World” to teach them about the environment. The PG-rated film tells a zany, heartwarming story about a family of explorers banding together to navigate the world.

“So, I thought that that was such a beautiful message to send to my kids, along with working together, chasing your dreams, compassion,” Barbee said.

But the screening led to the ire of Shannon Rodriguez, a Hernando County school board member who is also a parent of one of Barbee’s students.

“I’m not going to stand by and allow this minority to infiltrate our schools. God did put me here,” said Rodriguez at a school board meeting.

The complaint triggered an investigation from the Florida Department of Education. Barbee says a letter she received from the state informed her she is under investigation over “allegations that you engaged in inappropriate conduct.”

Because “Strange World” features a gay character, it may violate Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” signed into law last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The controversial legislation bans certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classrooms.

Hernando County Schools sent an announcement home to parents that read in part, “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.”

Rodriguez claims Barbee broke school policy because she did not get the specific movie approved by school administration.

“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 assists teachers in opening a door ... for conversations that have no place in our classrooms,” she said.

However, Barbee insists she followed the rules, saying every child had a signed permission slip form their parent approving for PG movies to be shown in the classroom.

“Nobody had a process in place where individual movies got approved. Now that I had this situation happen, there’s a whole process in place where you have to get every single movie approved with a letter to admin to the parent to back,” she said.

Teachers who violate the Florida Parental Rights bill can be suspended or have their teaching licenses revoked. Barbee says she simply wants to finish out the year in her classroom.

“I don’t want them to terminate me right now,” she said.

The district confirmed to CNN the state is investigating Barbee.