Education

Florida is investigating a teacher who showed a Disney movie with a gay character

Strange World tells the story of a family of explorers.
Strange World tells the story of a family of explorers.
Disney

A Florida teacher is under investigation by the state's Department of Education after she showed her students a Disney movie that features a gay character.

Jenna Barbee, who teaches fifth grade in the Hernando County School District, says a student's mother lodged a complaint with education officials after Barbee showed the film Strange World in her classroom.

Barbee said the movie focuses on humans' relationship to the environment, which was why she chose to show it to her class after a section on ecosystems, plants and animals. She said a subplot about a boy having a crush on another boy never crossed her mind before screening the film.

"It talks about love to all things, and that's literally what this movie represents," Barbee told NPR. "I find it interesting that now I'm getting in trouble for a similar topic."

Strange World, a PG-rated Disney movie released last year, features actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Gabrielle Union among others and tells the story of three generations of a family exploring a dangerous land beneath their world.

Karen Jordan, a spokesperson for the Hernando County School District, confirmed to NPR in an email that both the district and the state are investigating the matter.

She said the Hernando County School District sent a note to the parents of children in the class informing them that their children had been shown the film.

"While not the main plot of the movie, parts of the story involves a male character having and expressing feelings for another male character," the note reads in part. "In the future, this movie will not be shown."

When asked why the district would no longer show Strange World, Jordan said there is a school board policy that guides the use of movies in classrooms and that the movie may violate Florida's "Parental Bill of Rights," a law signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last year.

The law — which critics have dubbed "Don't Say Gay" — bars classroom instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. In April, the Florida Board of Education approved an expansion of the ban to all grades.

DeSantis has been targeting curriculum and diversity programs in public schools and colleges that he's attacked as "woke indoctrination."

Cassie Palelis, press secretary for the Florida Department of Education, said in an email to NPR on Monday that the department couldn't confirm or deny whether Barbee is under investigation and pointed to the state's legal process for investigating complaints against teachers.

The issue came into public view after one of Barbee's colleagues tweeted a photo of the letter Barbee received from state education officials informing her that she was under investigation.

Barbee also posted a video on TikTok explaining her situation, saying investigators have been interviewing students about the matter.

In an interview with NPR, she noted that Strange World also depicts a heterosexual couple kissing, but said that only the same-sex crush was the subject of the parent's complaint.

"You don't get to pick and choose which things you want and which things you don't," Barbee said. "That's the issue with our school system today. It's just this ongoing battle of everybody getting to push what they believe."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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