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State education officials want to interview students of Florida teacher under investigation for showing Disney movie to class


By Tina Burnside, CNN

(CNN) — Florida education officials want to speak with students who were shown a Disney movie in their fifth-grade class, sparking an investigation of their teacher over the state’s law against the teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A letter was sent to “sent to several students’ parents” indicating investigators from the Florida Department of Education would be at the Winding Waters K-8 school as soon as Wednesday and may interview students, Hernando County Schools spokesperson Karen Jordan said.

Parents can object to the interview, according to the Miami Herald, which obtained a copy of the letter. School officials were made aware of the planned visit last week, it reported.

The investigation centers on teacher Jenna Barbee, who said she showed her class the movie “Strange World” as their peers were finishing standardized testing. The 2022 Disney film tells the story of a family of explorers and features a gay character.

A parent of one of Barbee’s students, Shannon Rodriguez, reported the showing of the movie to state education officials because a state law bans the instruction of certain LGBTQ topics in schools.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation in March 2022 saying it was a form of “parental rights,” while opponents said it tried to erase LGBTQ people from schools and dubbed the law “Don’t Say Gay.”

The law initially applied to kindergarten through third grade, but last month, Florida’s state education board voted to expand the law’s scope to include all grades through high school. Teachers who violate the state policy can be suspended or have their teaching licenses revoked.

Barbee didn’t know the law had been expanded to her grade level, she told CNN.

“I just found out today that they increased it to my level,” the fifth-grade teacher told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Monday night. “I had no idea whatsoever that this was such a big deal.”

The students’ parents had previously signed permission slips allowing them to watch PG-rated movies, Barbee said.

Rodriguez, who is also a member of the Hernando County School District Board, complained to the school’s principal that the movie is not appropriate for students, Jordan said.

“It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child: religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above. But allowing movies such as this assist teachers in opening a door, and please hear me, they assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms,” Rodriguez said at a May 9 school board meeting.

But Barbee told CNN her students are already discussing such topics on their own.

“These students are talking about things way beyond this (movie),” Barbee said. “This door that she’s talking about, it’s been open. These are common conversations that I have to tell my students, ‘Woah there. We’re getting a little too much here.’”

Barbee addressed the school board during the public comment period of its May 9 meeting, telling them the movie’s content was not sexual and was relevant to her lesson on ecosystems and the environment.

Rodriguez has said the teacher should have gotten the movie approved by school administration, but Barbee told CNN there was no process in place for clearing specific movies.

The complaint about the movie showing is being reviewed by a Florida Department of Education investigator and an attorney will provide a recommendation to the commissioner for next steps, department press secretary Cassie Palelis has said.

Barbee said she had already submitted her resignation from the school the week before the incident occurred due to “politics and the fear of not being able to be who you are” in the public school system.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Melissa Alonso, Isabel Rosales and Jennifer Henderson contributed to this report.

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