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A Florida Teacher Showed a Disney Film With a Gay Character. Now She’s Under Investigation

3 minute read

Florida’s state Department of Education has opened an investigation into a teacher who showed her students a Disney film featuring a gay character.

Jenna Barbee, a teacher in the Hernando County School District, said in a TikTok that she showed the film, Strange World, to her fifth grade class after a unit on ecosystems, plants and animals, since the movie focuses on humans’ relationship to the environment. (The Hernando County School District did not return TIME’s request for comment.)

“My thought process was, what a better way to showcase all these standards along with huge lessons of overcoming differences, spreading kindness, communication and chasing your dreams,” she continued.

The film is a PG-rated animation that follows three generations of a family as they explore uncharted land beneath their world. The movie was released in 2022 and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Gabrielle Union, among others. The movie, which is Disney’s first film with an openly gay character, has a subplot about a boy having a crush on another boy, but Barbee said that was not the reason she showed the film.

“The LGBTQ aspect of the film is harmless,” she said. “It’s just a talked-about crush.”

The controversy comes after Florida’s state education board voted to expand its controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law to all grade levels last month, and as Disney faces a legal battle with Governor Ron DeSantis for what it said was retaliation for speaking up against the legislation.

Barbee added that her actions were not out of line with the school’s procedure for showing films. “I was told by every teacher and mentor at our school that our method for approval by administration was to have a signed parent permission slip for PG movies,” she said. “I had that from the beginning of the year. The whole fifth grade team had signed permission slips for PG movies, with no objections to specific content.”

However, the daughter of a school board member was in the classroom at the time, and the parent filed a complaint for “indoctrination,” Barbee said in her video. “That school board member is currently on a rampage to get rid of every form of representation out of our schools.”

Teachers who violate “Don’t Say Gay,” known formally as the Parental Rights in Education Act, can be stripped of their educator’s license. The Florida Department of Education told CNN that the complaint against Barbee will be reviewed by an investigator, and an attorney will then provide a recommendation to the commissioner for next steps.

“None of my students cared or batted an eye. They didn’t even know this was a big deal until the board member and the state made it a big deal,” Barbee said.

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Write to Simmone Shah at simmone.shah@time.com