A Florida teacher says she is being investigated by her school and the state Department of Education after showing her fifth graders an animated Disney movie featuring an openly gay character.
In a viral TikTok video posted Saturday, Jenna Barbee, a teacher at Winding Waters K-8 in Brooksville, about an hour north of Tampa, alleged that a parent, who is also on the local school board, sued her for projecting the 2022 title. “Strange World” on May 3. Barbee made a similar allegation at a school board meeting last week.
The PG-rated animated film, about a family of legendary explorers, features a gay character, Ethan Clade, who is in love with another male character in the film. His crush is mentioned once at the beginning of the film and his sexuality is never mentioned again, he said in his TikTok video.
Barbee, a first-year teacher, said she showed her students the sci-fi movie because it tied in with her class’s science lessons, and that she also wanted to give her students a break after a full day of standardized tests. . She added that she received permission slips signed by parents to show her students PG-rated movies at the beginning of the school year.
“Is he a character from the LGBTQ movie? Absolutely,” she said. “Is that why I showed it? No.»
Barbee did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In her TikTok video, she said the parent and Hernando County School Board member who reported her to the state accused her of indoctrinating students about LGBTQ identities and compromising student safety.
“This is the public education system, where students of all backgrounds, cultures and religions are welcomed and should be celebrated and represented. I am not and would never indoctrinate anyone to follow my beliefs,» Barbee said. “However, I will always be a safe go-to person spreading the message of kindness, positivity and compassion to all.”
In the last week school board meetingwhich was recorded and posted on the district website, when Barbee first publicly acknowledged the alleged investigation, he identified the school board member as Shannon Rodriguez.
Rodriguez responded during the board meeting, accusing Barbee of «stripping the innocence» of her 10-year-old son by screening the film.
«It’s not a teacher’s job to force their beliefs on a child: religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above,» he said. “Allowing movies like this to help teachers open a door…for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.”
He added: “As a leader in this community, I will not stand by and allow this minority to infiltrate our schools.”
Neither Rodriguez nor the school board immediately responded to requests for comment.
Barbee, in her social media post, said school officials and a Department of Education investigator will interview her students one by one about the film, with or without their parents’ consent. NBC News has not confirmed this allegation.
“Do you know the trauma that is going to cause some of my students? They are fifth graders,” Barbee said. «Some of them can barely come over and have a conversation with me, and they’re just getting comfortable with me, and now an investigator is allowed to come in and question them?»
In response to a request for comment on Barbee’s allegations, a Department of Education spokesperson outlined its process for investigating alleged teacher misconduct, but did not comment specifically on the allegations against Barbee.
“It is my understanding that the person in question has discussed his case publicly,” the spokeswoman, Cassandra Palelis, wrote in an email. «However, we will not allow politics and media pressure to dictate our process.»
Karen Jordan, public information officer for Winding Waters K-8, said in an email that «the matter is currently under investigation.» Jordan also shared an email that school officials sent to parents earlier this month saying the film will not be shown to students in the future.
The complaint against Barbee comes amid a national debate over whether LGBTQ issues should be taught in schools. And nowhere in the nation has the debate raged as fiercely as in Florida.
Florida lawmakers last year enacted a controversial education law that critics have dubbed the «Don’t’ Say Gay» law. The law prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, and the Department of Education recently approved a rule to extend the ban through grade 12. On Monday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill bill that would prohibit Florida education public universities from using taxpayer funds to pay for diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, has also jumped into the fray. Since speaking out against the so-called Don’t Say Gay law, the company has largely been at odds with DeSantis. Last month, Disney sued DeSantis, who is about to announce a run for president, alleging a «targeted campaign of government retaliation» against the company for expressing opposition to the law.