Hernando County School Board Member Shannon Rodriguez is experiencing a wave of backlash from local teachers and the teacher’s union following her recent complaint to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE). The complaint centers around Winding Waters 5th grade teacher Jenna Barbee, who showed an “unauthorized” Disney movie to her class. In the movie, “Strange World,” the male protagonist is attracted to another male character. Rodriguez has a 10-year-old daughter in the class.
In an interview given to CNN, Barbee stated that she had submitted her resignation one week before showing the movie to her class. She said she submitted her resignation due to “politics and the fear of not being able to be who you are.”
Barbee appeared at the School Board meeting on May 9th, blasting Rodriguez for what Barbee termed as an abuse of office. Barbee took to the social media app Tik-Tok the next day with an online video in which she decried being under investigation by the FDOE and Rodriguez’s recent actions to purge “representation” (LGBTQ) from Hernando County schools. Barbee claimed she had had “a lot” of 5th-grade students come to her long before she showed the movie, saying “they were part of that community as well.” Barbee said the gay character depicted in Strange World had nothing to do with her decision to show the film, stating that it went along with the current earth science topics the class was studying. Barbee’s Tik-Tok Video went viral, and the story garnered the attention of national media outlets.
Rodriguez responded to Barbee at the May 9th meeting stating in part, “It is not a teacher’s job to impose their beliefs upon a child regarding religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” 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.”
Two petitions are now circulating, each calling for the removal of certain School Board members. Only board member Mark Johnson is not named in either petition. A petition on the site ipetitions.com, which has been up for several weeks, is seeking the removal of School Board Members Susan Duval, Linda Prescott, Gus Guadagnino, and Superintendent John Stratton. That petition was posted just days after an incident at Fox Chapel Middle School came to light, in which a transgender teacher made comments believed by some as a threat to shoot students. The petition has garnered 1761 signatures to date. The site contains no information as to who posted the petition but does contain an appeal to help fund the parental rights group Moms For Liberty. One comment stated, “Our school system is totally dysfunctional. Going back to COVID right up to today, its a mess, and the liberal board members and the Superintendent are the direct cause. They just hid the threat of a teacher to shoot students, from both parents and the two conservative board (members). The school is awash with LGBTQ ideology, BLM, ANTIFA, and a small group of very left-wing teachers trying to indoctrinate kids.” That statement seemed to sum up the concerns of many others who commented on the petition.
A second petition to remove Shannon Rodriguez from the Hernando County School Board has appeared on the online progressive petition site change.org. The petition, created by teacher Shelby Waymire, has gathered over 16,600 signatures as of Monday, May 23rd. According to the District’s website, Waymire teaches Social Studies at the District’s F.W. Springstead High School in Spring Hill. Waymire commented on the site that she seeks to gather at least 15,000 signatures and will present the petition at the May 30th School Board Meeting. According to the petition, if Rodriguez does not choose to step down, the petition will be forwarded to Governor DeSantis requesting action.
Florida statutes do not provide for recall elections of school board members. However, some counties have added provisions for recalling school board members. For instance, Brevard County, which is one of Florida’s 20 counties with a charter, has a provision in place to recall school board members under certain conditions. Hernando does not appear to have a provision for recalling school board members.
It is in the governor’s purview to remove a school board member from office under Article IV, 7(a) of the Florida Constitution. “The Governor “may suspend from office … any county officer … for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties or commission of a felony.”
It is questionable whether any of the complaints against school members and the Superintendent rise to the level of a removable offense.
The petition calls out Rodriguez, who was elected to the Board last year, for “toxic and unprofessional” behavior. The petition describes Rodriguez’s behavior as “persecutory toward educational professionals” and says it drives teachers from the profession. The petition states that teacher retention is at an all-time low in Hernando County, with over 80 percent of HCSD teachers leaving within the first three years of their employment.
The petition goes on to state, “Shannon Rodriguez has displayed time and time again that, as a school board member, she does NOT support those who work in schools and has shown her disconnect with the reality of the public education system. She has called staff members lazy, claimed we are exposing children to pornography, and aligned herself with those who state that educators are indoctrinating and grooming children.”
Some of those signing the petition left comments indicating they are either current or former teachers in the district. One teacher said that Rodriguez’s attack on Barbee was just the latest in many teacher attacks. One teacher alleged Rodriguez was visiting classrooms, looking for things like (LGBTQ) ally stickers and pride flags or “anything she can attack teachers for.” Recently, Superintendent John Stratton instructed all district teachers to remove anything that was not directly curriculum-related from their walls. The directive came after photos surfaced of gay pride-related flags and other materials on the walls of some classrooms.
While some parents support the anti-Rodriguez position that many teachers have taken, not all do. Many parents feel that Rodriguez gives them a voice in the district and question why an LGBTQ agenda seems to be openly promoted in some Hernando County classrooms. Parent Ken Mayon said Rodriguez was doing the work she was elected to do. Mayon said Rodriguez was “fighting for the kids and the parents, and that’s what we want in this community.”
Meanwhile, the parental rights group Moms for Liberty, LGBTQ activists, and even a small group of self-described anti-fascists continue to make their own plans for the next school board meeting on May 30th, each urging their supporters to attend through online posts.
In a May 20th media release, the school district announced that both the May 30th school board workshop and the regular board meeting had been moved to the campus theater of Hernando High School due to expected crowds significantly larger than usual. The workshop is scheduled for noon, and the regular meeting is scheduled for 6:00 PM. In addition to the change in location, the district says it will implement additional security measures. Bags, including purses and backpacks, will not be allowed in the theater, and all persons entering will be screened by metal detectors. There will also be additional law enforcement officers, as well as school security personnel present. No food or drinks other than water will be allowed in the theater. The district has not yet responded to inquiries regarding whether any specific threats were made to prompt the increase in security.