Florida teacher defends showing Disney movie: ‘I’m just being accepting’
Florida teacher defends showing Disney movie: ‘I’m just being accepting’ –
A Florida teacher under investigation because she showed her class the Disney animated movie Strange World which features a gay character has defended herself on social media, insisting the film related to the curriculum and warning that state investigators were traumatizing her 10- and 11-year-old students.
Jenna Barbee, a teacher at Winding Waters school in Hernando county, Florida, released a six-minute TikTok video in which she gave her side of the story. She said she had been reported to the local school board by one of her students’ mother, who sits on the board and was on a “rampage to get rid of every form of representation out of our schools”, Barbee alleged.
Barbee, who is in her first year as a teacher, said she was reported to Florida’s state education department for “indoctrination” before anyone had even spoken to her. She is now under official investigation for possible violations of the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed the “don’t say gay” law, which was introduced by Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis last year and which bans teaching about gender and sexual identity to school students at all ages.
In her TikTok statement, Barbee said she had decided to show Strange World to her fifth grade class to give them a break after a morning of exams. She saw the film as directly relevant to the curriculum they were studying on earth science and ecosystems.
She had signed permission slips from the parents of all pupils in the class, giving their approval for showing PG movies.
Disney released Strange World last year. The fictional plot centers on a team of explorers searching for a rare plant that provides energy for their society.
A central character in the animated film, Ethan Clade, who is played by the comic Jaboukie Young-White, is gay. He has a brief crush on another male character.
Barbee said that the sexual orientation of the character had nothing to do with her choice of film: “I have a lot of fifth grade students who have come to me this year, long before showing this movie, talking about how they’re part of [the LGBTQ] community. It’s not a big deal to me. So I just said, OK, awesome, I’m not pushing anything, just being accepting. That’s what I do.”
Barbee said that as part of the investigation by the state’s education department, her pupils were now being hauled out of class one by one to be interrogated by officials. Ironically, she added, no parental permission was required.
“Do you know the trauma that is going to cause to some of my students?” Barbee said. “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?”
Barbee emphasized that she would never indoctrinate anyone to follow her beliefs. Her aim was to spread “the message of kindness, positivity and compassion for everyone”, she said. “That is the key to the safety of our children.”
On Sunday, the Tallahassee Democrat named the parent and board member who had reported Barbee as Shannon Rodriguez. A member of the rightwing group Moms for Liberty, Rodriguez has been a leader of demands to have books she describes as “smut” and “porn” taken off library and school shelves.
At a school board meeting last week, Rodriguez reportedly accused Barbee of breaking school policy. “It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child,” she said. “Allowing movies such as this assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classroom.”
Barbee’s predicament left her in the crosshairs of Florida’s culture wars. DeSantis, who is expected to run for the White House in 2024, has put teachers at the centre of his attack on “wokeness”.
He has also made Disney a prime target after the entertainment giant opposed his “don’t say gay” legislation. He has tried to strip Disney of its self-governing status in Florida, while the company has countered with a federal lawsuit arguing that their first amendment right to free speech has been violated.