Florida students shown Disney film in class interviewed in ‘Don’t Say Gay’ investigation

LGBTQ+ advocates in Florida have been protesting a host of bills they say target their civil rights, such as this march against the "Don't Say Gay" legislation enacted by the state. A Florida legislator on Monday referred to transgender supporters as "demons"  and "imps" during debate in a committee. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

A roundup of conversations we're having daily on the site. Subscribe to the Reckon Daily for stories centering marginalized communities and speaking to the under-covered issues of the moment.

The Florida Department of Education is interviewing students as part of an investigation into a teacher that played a Disney movie in class featuring a gay character.

According to a department spokesperson, officials questioned students Wednesday about watching the film “Strange World” as their peers finished standardized testing on May 3. Parents were allowed to object to the interviews ahead of time.

The incident was first reported after the daughter of a school board member told their parents about the screening. The following day, the students received a notification from the Hernando County School District.

It stated: “Yesterday, the Disney movie ‘Strange World’ was shown in your child’s classroom. While not the main plot of the movie, parts of the story involve a male character having and expressing feelings for another male character.

“In the future, this movie will not be shown. The school administration and the district’s Professional Standards Department is currently reviewing the matter to see if further corrective action is required. Thank you.”

In March 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation, which activists dubbed “Don’t Say Gay,” making it against the law for educators to teach students about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Similar bills are being considered by Louisiana, Indiana and Texas legislators.

At first, the law only applied to students in kindergarten through third grade. However, last month, officials decided to apply the law to all grade levels, a development Jenna Barbee, a fifth-grade teacher said she was not aware of.

The teacher submitted her resignation a week before the incident took place, citing concerns over the politicization of the state’s public school system, CNN reported.

In a TikTok video, Barbee said that before Hernando County School Board Member Shannon Rodriguez reported her, she’d been on a “rampage to get rid of every form of representation out of our schools.”

The teacher is now under investigation for “indoctrination.” Reckon has reached out to Rodriguez for comment.

Barbee said that parts of the movie Rodriguez took issue with total about two minutes in length. The film is just over an hour and a half long. Additionally, students in her class have approached her with feelings similarly expressed by the character in the film, but that’s not why she decided to show it.

The teacher said her intentions were to show a movie in line with her class’ curriculum, which includes earth science and ecosystems. The film is about a family of explorers trying to save the world.

Earlier this year, a Florida principal was told either to resign or be fired after she showed sixth-grade students a picture of Michelangelo’s David statue, a piece of Renaissance art depicting a naked man.

Hope Carrasquilla, principal at Tallahassee Classical School in Leon County was given the ultimatum after she forgot to send out notices letting parents know students would be shown a photo of the art piece, according to NPR.

According to her LinkedIn page, she worked at the school for roughly two years.

The actions have come during a year in which Republicans have become increasingly staunch about having more control over public education systems, a statement that is especially true in Florida.

Earlier this year, DeSantis came under fire for refusing to allow the College Board’s AP African American studies class to be taught in schools across the state, citing concerns with subject matter that included “queer theory” and “abolishing prisons.”

The organization later revised the course, but it’s not clear if the state will move forward with the curriculum.

Other extreme measures are taking place across the country.

In Missouri last week, a school suspended a student for recording a teacher saying the N-word because her actions “violated school district policy on inappropriate use of electronic devices,” according to the Springfield News-Leader.

The teacher allegedly used the word several times during class, but the student, Mary Walton, only caught him on video using it twice, the Associated Press reported. The teacher has been placed on administrative leave.

Walton is due back in class Wednesday. Her attorney, Natalie Hull, told the outlet that her client is hoping for an apology and for the suspension to be expunged from her record, an action the school district said it is not going to take.

The Reckon Report.
Sign up to receive the Reckon Report newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.