HERNANDO COUNTY, FL (R News) – Anyone claiming to be a "moderate" in today's rancorous political atmosphere is being dishonest with themselves or they're just afraid to tell anyone how they really feel. There just isn't much left in society that Progressives, (the new Democrat) and Republicans (Conservatives) can agree on. From the type of beer you drink, to the car you drive, nothing is safe from criticism. Sadly, these acrimonious parallels have spilled over into our public schools and now school board meetings have become "Jerry Springer Shows" (rest his soul) in any town U.S.A.

Hernando County entered the media circus last month after R News broke the story of a transgender teacher who allegedly made threats to "shoot" her students. The outcome of that case is still pending an investigation by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE). Since that incident, R News received dozens of tips from concerned parents, asking us to investigate other issues. It wasn't long before we received word that a Winding Waters K-8 teacher showed a prohibited movie to her 5th grade class, and the hullabaloo that followed gained the attention of media outlets around the world.

The controversy began when first-year teacher Jenna Barbee showed several students the Disney movie Strange World, which is prohibited under Florida's Parent Bill of Rights because it discusses sexual orientation. Governor Ron DeSantis made it very clear that woke indoctrination will no longer be accepted in Florida's public schools and that's led to tensions between parents and teachers across the state. The FLDOE is currently investigating the incident.

When the investigation first began, Barbee claimed she was unaware that the movie was considered contraband and believed the release form she had parents sign at the beginning of the year allowed them to watch "PG" films. But Hernando County School Board member Shannon Rodriguez argues that Barbee intentionally showed the film because her daughter, who is not one of Barbee's regular students, happened to be in her class the day of the viewing. Barbee claims Rodriguez is on a "witch-hunt" to take down teachers and push her Christian beliefs in the classroom. Barbee lashed out at Rodriguez during a school board meeting on May 9th and then again in a viral TikTok video she released last week. But one thing Barbee never mentioned, until making her rounds on national news shows, is that she submitted her resignation from Winding Waters on April 27th, a week before showing the movie to her class. In her resignation, Barbee writes that she decided to leave Winding Waters because "the system is broken." Some believe Barbee's decision to show the movie while Rodriguez's daughter was in the classroom was not a coincidence, but rather, a final jab at Rodriguez and her "conservative agenda" to push liberal teachers out of Hernando County Schools. Barbee denies that allegation. Barbee told Yahoo News, "Times have changed so much, and they are so micromanaged, they're not allowed to teach anymore. They're basically a caregiver who has to teach standards."

During an interview on Newsmax last night, Rodriguez claimed she received death threats from around the country and that her daughter is being bullied at school for being a "snitch," and trying to get the teacher fired. Rodriquez says the harassment has been so great that she could not put her child in school. She told Newsmax that she wanted armed security, but the district would not allow it. State Senator Blaise Ingoglia claimed Superintendent John Stratton created the hostile environment and refuses to protect Rodriguez while doing her job.

During the last School Board meeting, Board Member Mark Johnson motioned for a vote of no confidence against Stratton, due to his poor handing of the Fox Chapel incident. The vote was shot down after three board members voted to table the decision for a later date. It is unknown if the board will vote on the issue at the next board meeting.

Last week, a West Hernando Middle School teacher was forced to remove a large LGBTQIA/BLM flag that was hanging in his classroom, after Stratton sent a memo to teachers, ordering them to remove all prohibited items. In protest, several teachers removed the American flag and other benign items from the classroom, prompting Stratton to issue a second memo clarifying the FLDOE's position.

Stratton's memo reads:

The intent of mv email was to ensure that all classrooms in the district are in compliance with the Parents Bill of Rights (HB 1557) which went into effect this school year and in preparation for (HB 1069). Below are some bulleted points addressing concerns that I have heard, and I have also attached both bills for your review.

• Board policy 8810 states that the American Flag will be displayed in every classroom. This has not changed.

• Posters, decorations or quotes of encouragement promoting the overall safety and wellness of students can be displayed

• School or classroom related posters or advertisements are allowed

• HB 1069: Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in pre-kindergarten through grade 8, except when required by ss. 1003.42(2)(n)3. and 1003.46. If such instruction is provided in grades 9 through 12, the instruction must be in a manner that is age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.

• Do not display any items that can be considered classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity (flags, posters, stickers, etc.).

Parents we spoke to believe some teachers are opposed to traditional American values and are pushing their progressive agenda because they are offended by certain aspects, like the phrase "In God We Trust." One parent told R News that her son and two other students are the only ones who stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance, and that the rest of the students are allowed to talk and laugh through the daily ceremony.

The FLDOE's BEST standards for 2024 has specific K-12 Civics and Government guidelines that are proposed for teachers to encourage patriotism in the classroom.

Here are some examples:

Grade 1

• Recognize ways citizens can demonstrate patriotism.

• Students will discuss how to show respect for the Pledge of Allegiance.

• Students will learn how to display and dispose of the American flag.

• Students will discuss how to respectfully demonstrate patriotism during patriotic holidays and observances (e.g., American Founders Month, Celebrate Freedom Week, Independence Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Patriot Day, Veterans Day).

• Students will recognize the Bald Eagle, the United States President, Uncle Sam, and national motto ("In God We Trust") as symbols that represent the United States.

• Students will recognize Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. as individuals who represent the United States.

• Students will recognize that the state motto ("In God We Trust") and the state nickname ("The Sunshine State") are symbols that represents Florida.

Grade 5

• Explain how and why the United States government was created by the United States Constitution.

• Students will recognize that the Framers created the structure for the United States government.

• Students will explain how the application of checks and balances, consent of the governed, democracy, due process of law, federalism, individual rights, limited government, representative government, republicanism, rule of law and separation of powers distinguishes the United States constitutional republic from authoritarian and totalitarian nations.

Grades 9-12

• Explain the impact of political parties, interest groups, media and individuals on determining and shaping public policy.

• Students will identify the origins of the Republican and Democratic political parties and evaluate their roles in shaping public policy.

• Students will identify historical examples of, interest groups, media and individuals influencing public policy.

• Students will compare and contrast how the free press influenced politics at major points in United States history (e.g., Vietnam War Era, Civics Rights Era).

There is speculation that the May 30th School Board meeting will be held at a larger venue, due to the expected number of spectators. Spokesperson Karen Jordan has not confirmed the location, but some speculate that Hernando High School is the most likely choice, because it sits adjacent to the district office.