Indiana House Republicans lined up four-square in favor of discrimination last week. They rejected a proposal to prohibit private schools that receive state funding from discriminating against students and staff because of disability, sexual orientation or gender identification.
The House voted 62-33 against the proposal, offered by Rep. Dan Forestal as an amendment to House Bill 1641, which deals with charter school issues. Sixty-two Republicans voted against it. Voting in favor were 32 Democrats and one brave Republican, Rep. Sean Eberhart of Shelbyville.
The proposal was sparked by controversy over Indianapolis Roncalli High School’s suspension of longtime counselor Shelly Fitzgerald after school officials discovered she was married to a woman. Roncalli has been receiving about $1.5 million per year in voucher funding. Indiana spent $154 million last year on tuition vouchers for private schools, nearly all of which are religious schools.
Hats off to State Rep. Dan Forestal. Responding to a flap over Roncalli High School’s threat to fire a popular guidance counselor, the Indianapolis Democrat said Wednesday that he will introduce legislation to outlaw discrimination by private schools that receive voucher funding from the state.
There’s not much chance the proposal will become law, but it could spark debate about one of the most offensive aspect of Indiana’s voucher program: Schools that receive millions of dollars in state funding are free to discriminate in employment and in the enrollment of students.
The controversy at Roncalli, a Catholic high school in Indianapolis, involves Shelly Fitzgerald, a longtime counselor who was placed on paid leave after school and church officials learned she had been married to a woman since 2014. She told news media that school officials said she could dissolve her marriage, resign, be fired or keep quiet and leave her job at the end of the year.
Roncalli students have received almost $6 million in state tuition vouchers in the past four years, according to reports from the Indiana Department of Education.
Supporters of Senate Bill 65 in the Indiana Legislature say they want to enable parents to inspect the materials that schools use to teach sexuality education. But that’s not what this legislation is about.
Parents already have a right to see textbooks and instructional materials used by public schools under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. So does anyone else who wants to see them.
Luke Britt, the state public access counselor, confirmed that the materials would almost certainly have to be shared as public records. And I don’t believe any responsible public-school administrator would refuse to let parents or others see them. They’re public schools, after all. That’s also true of science and social-studies materials, which can also be controversial.
Instead, SB 65 aims to make it harder for schools to teach about sexuality – especially aspects of sexuality, specifically mentioned in the bill, that the measure’s supporters condemn. It would prohibit public schools from providing “instruction on human sexuality, including sexual activity, sexual orientation or gender identity” without written consent from parents.