A fifth grade public school teacher in Florida who is under investigation by the state Department of Education for showing her class an animated Disney movie with a gay character said Monday that there’s no problem with what she did, adding that she didn’t know doing so was “such a big deal.”
Jenna Barbee, who teaches in Hernando County’s Winding Waters K-8 school, was interviewed on CNN about her possible violation of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last year and which Disney spoke out against. The legislation prohibits classroom instruction on gender and sexuality in public schools, and Florida’s state education board voted last month to expand the ban all the way through high school.
CNN Tonight anchor Alisyn Camerota asked Barbee if she knew she could be committing a violation by showing the 2022 PG-rated movie Strange World to her earth sciences class.
“I honestly had no idea. I had no idea whatsoever that this was such a big deal. I didn’t even know it was a big deal until it was brought to my attention, because it’s just these students all have one-to-one devices. They talk about these things all the time. I have shut down much worse in class,” she said.
“And so, to me, this was just a common theme that people talk about all the time. My students talk about it all the time.”
Barbee said she chose the film because “that’s what we were learning about in science, actually, at the time. It’s the Earth’s ecosystems and how plants and animals and life all just connect and grow.” She said at the time she thought it was “the perfect movie” and “will show them everything that I have been telling them all year about breathing with the trees and picking up the trash and why we don’t kill the bugs.”
In a TikTok post last weekend, Barbee said all parents had signed permission slips for the movie. Yet it was one of those parents, who also happens to be on the Hernando County School District Board, who complained to the principal, CNN reported Monday, citing a spokesperson for the school district.
Shannon Rodriguez echoed what DeSantis and other supporters of the law have argued: that movies like Strange World “assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.”
In response, Barbee essentially said Rodriguez was out of her element. “I feel for her, because she obviously has never volunteered in the school, especially at this level,” she said. “This door that she’s talking about—it’s been opened.”
When asked if she would continue her career as a teacher, Barbee said, “not in the public education system” and claimed she was going to “work on a curriculum to create my own education system, because Florida needs a change. And I want to be that change. And I can’t from inside these walls.”