The Florida Department of Education is investigating one of its teachers for showing her fifth-grade students Disney’s Strange World while the kids took a break during standardized testing.
Who is the teacher? Jenna Barbee, a first-year teacher at Winding Waters School in Hernando County, Florida. On Sunday, Barbee put out a six-minute Tiktok video in which she explains the circumstances that led to the investigation.
@becomingabetterbarbee I am the teacher. Here is the truth. #indoctrination #disneymovie #disney #strangeworld #viraltweet ♬ original sound – Jenna Lynn
What is the complaint? According to Barbee, she is being accused of “indoctrination” and possible violations of the Parental Rights in Education Act, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law which was introduced by Governor Ron DeSantis last year. The legislation prohibits teaching about gender and sexual identity to school students. The movie Strange World features a teenage character named Ethan Clade who is gay and has a crush on a male character named Diazo. The complainant argued to the school board that “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.”
Where did the complaint come from? Barbee was reported to the local school board by the mother of a student who was present when the film was screened. Barbee says the student’s mother, who is a recent addition to the school board herself, is “on a rampage to get rid of every form of representation out of our schools” and that she has visited numerous schools in the district to force teachers to take down “anything that had to do with representation whatsoever.”
Who is the mom? According to the Florida publication The Tallahassee Democrat, the school board member is Shannon Rodriguez, a member of the right-wing group Moms for Liberty who has publicly spoken out in favor of removing books she believes are pornographic from school libraries. At a school board meeting about the Barbee investigation, Rodriguez argued, “It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child: religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above.”
Why did Barbee pick Strange World? Barbee says she picked the film because her students were studying earth science and ecosystems and the agricultural themes in Strange World tied in well to her lesson plan. She also says the film’s messages of overcoming differences, spreading kindness, communication, and chasing your dreams are all encouraged by Florida education system standards.
Did she not foresee any problems? At the beginning of the year, the parents of every fifth-grade student were asked to sign permission slips that would allow teachers to screen PG-rated films in the classroom. According to Barbee, every one of her students got permission from their parents except one, who said their child couldn’t watch the Pixar film Lightyear. That student wasn’t in the classroom on the day Strange World was screened, so Barbee felt she was in the clear to show the film as she already had the blessings of the remaining students’ parents. She also argues that the existence of gay characters in the film doesn’t indicate any kind of agenda and that nobody has had any objections to the numerous on-screen kisses shared by the film’s straight characters.
What’s happening now? In her Tiktok video, Barbee says the board of education is pulling her students out of class one by one to interrogate them about the screening. This seems to be Barbee’s single greatest objection to the entire situation. “Do you know the trauma that is going to cause to some of my students?” Barbee asks in the video. “Some of them can barely come and have a conversation with me, and are just getting comfortable with me, and now an investigator is allowed to come and interrogate them. Are you kidding me? What is that showing them?”
Big picture: What, if any, impact this investigation may have on the ongoing feud between The Walt Disney Company, its CEO Bob Iger, and the Florida governor is hard to tell. However, neither side has shied away from using whatever ammunition is available to them as the conflict has escalated. Most recently, Iger suggest during his company’s Q2 earnings call that if DeSantis continues his crusade against the company, Disney World might drop its plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 new jobs in the state over the next decade.