A Florida teacher defends her decision to show a Disney movie, citing inclusivity

Disney animated movie Strange World.

A Florida teacher, Jenna Barbee, currently facing investigation, has defended her decision to screen the Disney animated film “Strange World,” which includes a gay character, in her classroom. Barbee, who teaches at Winding Waters School in Hernando County, Florida, expressed her viewpoint in a six-minute TikTok video. She stated that she was reported to the local school board by a student’s mother, who is also a board member and is allegedly on a mission to eliminate various forms of representation from schools.

Barbee, in her first year of teaching, explained that she was reported for “indoctrination” even before anyone had spoken to her. She is now under official investigation for potential violations of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, known as the “don’t say gay” law, which was introduced by Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, last year. This law prohibits the teaching of gender and sexual identity topics to students of all ages.

In her TikTok statement, Barbee clarified that she showed “Strange World” to her fifth-grade class to provide them with a break after a morning of exams. She believed the film was directly relevant to the Earth science and ecosystems curriculum they were studying. She had obtained permission from the parents of all the students in the class to show PG-rated movies.

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“Strange World,” released by Disney last year, features a plot about a team of explorers searching for a rare plant that provides energy for their society. One of the central characters, Ethan Clade, portrayed by comedian Jaboukie Young-White, is gay and briefly has a crush on another male character.

Barbee emphasized that the character’s sexual orientation had no bearing on her choice of the film, and she had already been approached by students this year who identified as LGBTQ+. She said her approach was one of acceptance and kindness.

Barbee expressed concern about the investigation, which involves officials questioning her students individually without requiring parental permission. She highlighted the potential trauma this could cause to some of her students who are just starting to become comfortable with her.

She reiterated that her goal was not to impose her beliefs on anyone but to spread a message of kindness, positivity, and compassion. She believes these values are essential for children’s safety.

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The parent and board member who reported Barbee was identified as Shannon Rodriguez, a member of the right-wing group Moms for Liberty, known for demanding the removal of books she deems objectionable from libraries and schools. Rodriguez accused Barbee of violating school policy by exposing students to content that she believes should not be discussed in classrooms.

Barbee’s situation has drawn attention in Florida’s ongoing culture wars, with Governor DeSantis targeting teachers and Disney over issues related to education and LGBTQ+ rights. Disney has challenged the “don’t say gay” law, arguing that it infringes on their First Amendment right to free speech, leading to legal battles between the company and the state government.

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