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Florida teacher under investigation for showing a Disney film with a gay character

Fifth grade teacher Jenna Barbee says she was reported for showing students the animated Disney movie “Strange World,” which features a gay character.
/ Source: NBC News

A Florida teacher says she is being investigated by her school and the state’s Education Department after showing her fifth grade students a Disney animated 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 also serves on the local school board, reported her for screening 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 has a crush on another male character in the movie. His crush is mentioned once at the beginning of the movie and his sexuality is never brought up again, she said in her TikTok video.

Barbee, a first-year teacher, said she showed her students the science-fiction movie because it tied in to her class’s science lessons, and she was also looking to give her students a break after a full day of standardized testing. She added that she received signed permission slips from parents to show her students PG-rated films at the beginning of the school year. 

“Is a character in the movie LGBTQ? 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 students’ safety. 

“This is the public education system, where students from all backgrounds, cultures and religions are welcomed and should be celebrated and represented. I am not and never would indoctrinate anyone to follow my beliefs,” Barbee said. “I will, however, always be a safe person to come to that spreads the message of kindness, positivity and compassion for everyone.”


Ethan finds the adventure he’s wanted for a long time when he ends up in a strange world with strange creatures like a mischievous blue blob called Splat.
Ethan finds the adventure he’s wanted for a long time when he ends up in a strange world with strange creatures like a mischievous blue blob called Splat.Disney

At last week’s school board meeting, which was recorded and posted on the district’s website, when Barbee first publicly acknowledged the alleged investigation, she 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 child by screening the film. 

“It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child: religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above,” she said. “Allowing movies such as this assist teachers in opening a door … for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.”

She added, “As a leader in this community, I’m not going to 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 an investigator from the Education Department will be interviewing her students one by one about the movie, with or without the consent of their parents. NBC News has not confirmed this allegation. 

“Do you know the trauma that that is going to cause to some of my students? They are fifth graders,” Barbee said. “Some of them can barely come up and have a conversation with me, and are just getting comfortable with me, and now an investigator is allowed to come in and interrogate them?”

In response to a request for comments on Barbee’s allegations, a spokesperson for the Education Department outlined its process for investigating alleged teacher misconduct, but would not comment on the allegations against Barbee specifically. 

“I understand that the individual in question has discussed her case publicly,” the spokesperson, Cassandra Palelis, wrote in an email. “However, we will not allow politics and media pressure to dictate our process.”

Karen Jordan, the 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 that the film will not be shown to students in the future. 

The complaint against Barbee comes amid a nationwide debate over whether LGBTQ issues should be taught in schools. And nowhere else in the nation has the debate raged on as fiercely as in Florida. 

Florida lawmakers enacted a controversial education law last year that critics have dubbed the “Don’t’ Say Gay” law. The law bars the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, and the Education Department recently approved a rule to expand the ban through grade 12. On Monday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that would bar Florida’s public colleges from using taxpayer funds to pay for diversity, equity and inclusion programs. 

Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, has also been pulled into the fray. Since coming out against the so-called Don’t Say Gay law, the company has been largely at odds with DeSantis. Last month, Disney sued DeSantis — who is on the verge of announcing a run for president — alleging a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against the company for voicing opposition to the law. 

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.