Former "Woke" Teacher Launches Podcast, Transgender Teacher Terminated, District Employee Reprimanded
Last updated 7/12/2023 at 4:07pm
BROOKSVILLE – The Hernando County School District had its fair share of controversies during the 2022-2023 school year, and 2024 look like it will be no less provocative.
From threatening comments made by a transgender teacher at Fox Chapel Middle School, to the showing of a prohibited "woke" Disney movie by a Winding Waters K-8 teacher, the subsequent hullabaloo kept Hernando County in the national spotlight for several months.
The now-former Winding Waters 5th grade teacher used her 15-minutes of fame to launch a new podcast called the Gaia Gazette. In her first show on June 28th, Barbee explained that Gaia is "Mother Earth," and that the Disney movie "Strange World" inspired her to talk about earth and Gaia. Barbee tells her viewers that negative energy causes earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, and even COVID.
Barbee submitted her resignation from WW K-8 prior to showing the movie, which has some believing her prearranged exit was a calculated attack on Conservative School Board Member Shannon Rodriguez for opposing "woke" indoctrination. Rodriguez's daughter was in Barbee's class and was forced to watch the film without prior approval from Rodriguez. A subsequent FLDOE investigation ruled that Barbee did in fact violate policy.
While the investigation into Barbee was underway, a parallel investigation took place into a school district employee who released protected school records about Rodriguez's daughter to the public. According to school officials, Communication Specialist Angela Shephard received at least two public record requests for copies of a permission slip that Rodriguez signed, allowing her daughter to watch certain approved films. Shephard redacted the child's name and other information, and then approved their release. Upon realizing that it was a privacy violation, Shephard contacted the requesters and asked that they remove the document from social media. The documents were removed but several people had already shared and copied the posts from social media. Rodriguez demanded an investigation into the incident.
At the conclusion to the investigation, Superintendent John Stratton issued a written reprimand to Shephard on June 21st that reads in part, "This correspondence is being given to you as a formal letter of reprimand for violations of HCSB Policies, including but not limited to 8310 and 8330." It further reads, "...Such inappropriate actions on your part do not reflect positively on your position." Stratton goes on to say that further incidents could lead to her termination.
Shephard has been with the district for 12 years, 9 of those as a Communications Specialist. Shephard has had no prior disciplinary actions.
The incident at Fox Chapel Middle School involving Ashlee Belle Renczkowski, formerly Alexander Renczkowski, led to outrage around the county. Renczkowski was allegedly overheard threatening to shoot his students and himself back in March of this year. R News broke the story and it quickly made headlines around the world.
Parents were angry because the School District and Sheriff's Office attempted to coverup the incident by not notifying them about the investigation. They also refused to acknowledge public information requests or provide statements to the media. Renczkowski was subsequently removed from the class and his firearms were taken away for at least one year.
According to a statement from school officials, Renczkowski will not be "recommended for reappointment with the Hernando County School District for the 2023-2024 school year." Essentially, Renczkowski has been terminated. It is unknown if Renczkowski will file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the district.