Disney’s latest animated feature film is at the center of a major controversy that’s tearing an entire community apart.
The latest animated film to be released at the box office by Walt Disney Pictures has been controversial since its debut, and more than six months after its release, the controversy has only grown following news that a fifth-grade teacher at an elementary school in Hernando County, Florida, showed the film during class time. What began for many as no big deal and with one student telling her mother about the incident–her mother who happened to be a school board member in Hernando County–has blossomed into an issue that’s dividing an entire community.
In 2022, the entertainment giant released three separate films: Disney/PIXAR’s Turning Red (March) and Lightyear (June), as well as Disney’s Strange World (November). But fans used their movie dollars (or lack thereof) to send a message to Disney–that the company’s so-called “woke ideology” doesn’t resonate, and for some, it simply won’t be tolerated. As such, none of the year’s three films did well from a revenue-generating standpoint, and the loss for the studio thus far stands at more than $300 million.
Disney’s Strange World is the film at the very center of heated debate and growing controversy in Hernando County, Florida, where a fifth-grade teacher named Jenna Barbee opted to show the film to her students at Winding Waters School. Following the classroom viewing, Barbee received a certified letter from the Florida Department of Education, letting her know that an investigation had been opened, citing Florida State Statute 1012.796.
“My friend showed Disney’s Strange World in a Florida classroom, and one student reported it to their parents,” Carl Zee tweeted. “Now she’s under investigation by the state. Florida is not safe for teachers, DO NOT MOVE HERE.”
My friend showed Disney’s Strange World in a Florida classroom and one student reported it to their parents. Now she’s under investigation by the state.
Florida is not safe for teachers, DO NOT MOVE HERE. pic.twitter.com/rZJPdadz28
— Carl Zee (@c350Zee) May 11, 2023
Soon after the investigation was opened, Barbee received notice that the case was closed, and the findings of the investigation were as follows:
“The investigation was completed regarding the parent complaint. You had the PG(-rated movies) approval forms for all of the students and connected the movie to the curriculum being taught. You are reminded that you must seek and receive administrative approval before showing a film or video.”
But for the community, the controversy surrounding the Disney film shown as part of classroom instruction has yet to die down. On Tuesday evening, a very heated meeting of the Hernando County School District board lasted well into Wednesday morning. More than 100 people signed up to speak publicly during the meeting, though not all of them intended to speak about the Winding Waters School incident. At a previous school board meeting, two members, Shannon Rodriguez and Marc Johnson, called for the resignation of Hernando County School District Superintendent John Stratton.
But more than 500 parents and teachers showed up at the meeting on Tuesday, many of whom were wearing green and yellow shirts that read, “#StrattonStays.”
“Mr. Stratton is an amazing superintendent,” said parent Kimberly Mulrooney. “Our graduation rates are up, our ESD graduation rates are up. A plethora of things. Teachers aren’t in fear of him. They feel like they can go to him.”
“At the last meeting, board member Johnson made a motion to hold a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Stratton, but the board voted to table the vote 3-2 with both Rodriquez and Johnson dissenting. The vote of no confidence triggered a lot of parents and teachers in support of Stratton to show up to Tuesday night’s meeting.”
“After working here in this county for 33 years and [having] been through six superintendents, I can honestly say that Mr. Stratton is for the people,” retired teacher Barbara Weiss said.
Board members Rodriquez and Johnson aren’t alone in their demands for Stratton’s resignation. On Tuesday evening, dozens of members of Moms for Liberty and Proud Boys were in attendance and also called for the superintendent to step down.
“We’re supportive of Shannon [Rodriguez] and Marc [Johnson],” said Moms for Liberty member Kathryn Birren. “They’ve come in. I know she seems loud and sort of proud about what she’s saying, but I believe that she has the innocence of the children’s best interests at heart, the taxpayers’ money.”
But the calls for Superintendent Stratton’s resignation come in response to not one, but many, incidences within the Hernando County Schools System. A statement released on Tuesday by three Florida lawmakers–State Senator Blaise Ingoglia, Rep. Jeff Holcomb, and Rep. John Temple–also called for Stratton to resign:
“Today, we are collectively calling for the resignation of Hernando Schools Superintendent John Stratton. It is clear to us that Superintendent Stratton has lost the confidence of parents, grandparents, and our community. We can no longer sit back and allow the Hernando County school system to make national news for its poor decisions, lack of transparency and accountability, and its contempt for parental rights. Whether it is pornographic material in our schools, not notifying parents when their children may have been around an alleged pedophile, or allowing a teacher back in the classroom after threatening to kill students, it is clear to us that change is needed, and it is needed now.”
Twice in the month of May, the school board has held a vote of no confidence in its superintendent. But neither of those attempts to remove Stratton was successful, meaning as of the time of this publication, the Hernando County Schools Superintendent will retain his position.