A teacher in the Hernando County School District in Florida is currently under investigation by the state’s Department of Education after screening a Disney movie that includes a gay character. Jenna Barbee, a fifth-grade teacher, explained that a complaint was filed by a student’s parent following her decision to show the film Strange World to her class. Barbee chose the movie as a way to delve into the topic of humanity’s connection with the environment, following their lessons on ecosystems, plants, and animals. She clarified that she hadn’t anticipated the subplot involving a boy having feelings for another boy when she selected the film.
Barbee expressed her astonishment at encountering trouble for addressing a similar theme, stating to NPR, “It talks about love for all things, and that’s literally what this movie represents.” Strange World, a PG-rated Disney movie released the previous year, features renowned actors such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Gabrielle Union. The film follows the adventures of a family spanning three generations as they explore a treacherous realm hidden beneath their world.
The controversy surrounding the Florida teacher who showed a Disney movie featuring a gay character continues to unfold. Karen Jordan, a spokesperson for the Hernando County School District, has confirmed that both the district and the state are conducting an investigation into the matter. The district sent a notice to parents, acknowledging that their children had been exposed to the film in question. While the gay subplot is not the central theme of the movie, the note explained that it involves a male character expressing romantic feelings for another male character. As a result, the film will not be shown again in the future.
According to Jordan, the decision is based on a school board policy that governs the use of movies in classrooms. It is suggested that showing the movie may potentially violate Florida’s “Parental Bill of Rights,” a law enacted by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis last year. Critics have dubbed this legislation as “Don’t Say, Gay,” as it prohibits classroom instruction pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. In April, the ban was expanded to cover all grade levels following the approval of the Florida Board of Education.
Governor DeSantis has been actively targeting curriculum and diversity programs in public schools and colleges, criticizing them as forms of “woke indoctrination.” Cassie Palelis, press secretary for the Florida Department of Education, stated that the department cannot confirm or deny whether Jenna Barbee is under investigation, emphasizing that the state follows a legal process for handling complaints against teachers.
The issue gained widespread attention after one of Barbee’s colleagues shared a photo of the letter she received from state education officials, informing her of the ongoing investigation. Barbee herself took to TikTok to address the situation, revealing that investigators have been interviewing students regarding the incident. The case raises important questions about freedom of expression and the extent to which state regulations can influence classroom content.