Culture War wages within Hernando County School District
May 9, 2023 School Board Meeting Coverage
First-year teacher Jenna Barbee took the podium on May 9 to blast school board member Shannon Rodriguez after she (Barbee) had received disciplinary action following a complaint by Rodriguez. (Barbee is a fifth-grade teacher at Winding Waters Elementary School.)
Mocking previous comments by Rodriguez that she (Rodriguez) was a Christian and that “God appointed her to the board,” Barbee went on to reveal that she had been accused of indoctrination by Rodriguez.
The accusation, according to Barbee, came after she showed an unapproved Disney movie, Strange World, to third graders. The movie featured a two-and-one-half-minute scene portraying an openly gay character discussing his attraction to another male character. Barbee said that Rodriguez spoke to her at the school about the matter and later tried to have her removed from the classroom.
Barbee cited an alleged personal conversation between Rodriguez and Barbee’s father, after which her father “reprimanded her” and told her she had been reported to the Florida Department of Education for “indoctrination.”
“I have students that have told me they are gay. Am I supposed to say that they are wrong and that is not natural? Because that’s what Shannon wants me to do,” said Barbee. “She has no regard for the mental health issue that she and these outdated beliefs are creating.
“We do our best to find reasons to separate our children and ridicule others’ lives instead of focusing on the power of diversity and individuality. The word indoctrination is thrown around a lot right now, but it seems those who are using it are using it as a defense tactic for their own fear-based belief without understanding the true meaning of the word.”
Barbee accused Rodriguez of using her (Barbee’s) situation to promote her political agenda.
“That should be illegal. That should be cause to have her removed from the Board, considering it takes less to remove a teacher from the classroom,” she said. “People like her are the problem.”
Reading from a prepared statement, Rodriguez addressed the incident that led to disciplinary action against Barbee. Rodriguez questioned why district policies and procedures were not followed when Barbee chose to show an unauthorized movie to her students, which included Rodriguez’s 10-year-old daughter.
Rodriguez said she initially took the incident to the school principal, who informed her the movie had not been approved and was inappropriate. The principal told Rodriguez that she had reviewed the handbook with Barbee and let her know all movies have to be approved by the administration before being shown.
Rodriguez said that Barbee was busy playing the victim and taking the light off of herself, the real victims are the children. Rodriguez then questioned where the line between parenting and teaching was drawn.
“It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child regarding religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” Rodriguez said. She added that such movies assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in the classroom.
“As a parent, it is my job to teach my child about the birds and the bees and sexual relationships. It is for me to decide at what age I want to embark on those conversations,” she said. “By not following policy and procedure, Ms. Barbee stripped me of my right as a parent to not have those conversations prematurely.”
Rodriguez then spoke of Barbee’s father’s involvement.
“You invited your father in. You put him in the center of our situation. You opened the door to use his name to be a benefit to you. (Barbee’s father is District Judge Don Barbee.),” Rodriguez said. “Then later, when it didn’t work out for you, you chose to use your father as a sword against me. Sadly for you, you can’t have it both ways.
“You are deflecting the real issue. You showed a movie that wasn’t sanctioned school material, thus stripping the innocence of my 10-year-old, not your 10-year-old,” she said. “I did not give you that right; it’s my child. So you, right along with the rest of the pack that has been coming forward speaking, you want to be coddled after you created a situation. Unfortunately, Ms. Barbee, it does not work that way.”
Rodriguez then addressed the audience.
“This is an example of your children being exposed to controversial issues that have no place in schools. Last month, Nature Coast Technical High School was approved to be a culinary partner for a community event that was to be emceed by a drag queen named Shasta McNasty,” Rodriguez said. “We are missing the mark. We need to be more vigilant of what we are approving.”
Rodriguez said that as leaders, it was time to step up and require accountability. Rodriguez said it was she who stepped in to stop the Shasta McNasty event.
“I got elected by the citizens of this community to stop this nonsense, and that’s what I will continue doing,” she said.
“The Teachers Who Have Come Forward Are a Minority”
Rodriguez said we live in a great community with great teachers. She said she believes in the majority of teachers and has immense respect for them. She asked teachers to not allow “this minority who has come forward and put themselves on display to convince you otherwise.” Rodriguez said the teachers’ union “showed up in full force last week, organizing this fiasco.” She said the union wore buttons that said “Who’s Next” to make a mockery out of a very serious situation at Fox Chapel.
“The children should not be a pawn in the crossfire of your political agenda.” Rodriguez said that as a leader, she would not stand by, that she would not allow the minority to infiltrate the schools. She said the union was advocating for their colleague rather than the safety of children.
Concluding, Rodriguez said many that came forward to speak at the meeting have a victim mentality. She thanked those who showed their support.