State superintendent says schools that accept vouchers should be accepting of LGBT community

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Just weeks after an Indianapolis Catholic school put a counselor on paid leave due to her same-sex marriage, the state superintendent said schools that receive taxpayer money should be inclusive of all students and staff no matter their sexual orientation.

“When we still have schools that receive taxpayer dollars that can exclude students, that’s a problem,” said Jennifer McCormick, Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The stance was shared during McCormick’s press conference about the Indiana Department of Education’s legislative priorities. McCormick said students and staff should not have to deal with exclusionary policies.

The remarks come after Shelley Fitzgerald, a longtime counselor at Roncalli High School, was placed on paid leave after the school says she violated her contract by being married to a woman. Fitzgerald appeared on national television to share her story.

“They told me if it stayed kind of quiet and it didn’t get into the media and I didn’t let anybody know what was going on that I could potentially keep my job for the rest of the year but then they wouldn’t renew my contract the following year,” Fitzgerald said on the Ellen Show.

Leaders at the school said staff must convey the teachings of the Catholic Church and those expectations are clearly defined in employee contracts.

But, McCormick said schools that accept public money should not be able to push staff or students out.

“If our goal as a state is to develop a well-educated workforce and we want businesses to come here because we are inclusive and accepting, I think part of that goes to our actions,” McCormick said.

Records show 350 Hoosier students attended Roncalli High School last year through vouchers. The vouchers translate to about $1.5 million in tax dollars.

“I think the notion that you can’t send a child that takes taxpayers’ money to a school because they identify LGBT, that’s a little bit antiquated and it should not be accepted in this state,” McCormick said.

Meantime, the chair of the education committee said he believes it’s a matter of empowering families.

“The taxpayer dollars go to parents not to schools,” said Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis. “So, it’s really parents making decisions and not the government handing money over to schools. I personally believe it’s probably more of an issue of religious freedom rather than an issue of discrimination.”

FOX59 reached out to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis about this. They sent us a statement, saying in part:

“Our Catholic schools are humbled to serve students of diverse backgrounds and we welcome all
students and families who desire a quality Catholic education. We are inclusive of students aligned to
our mission, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status,
and learning need.”

“Regarding potential changes in voucher legislation in the future, we will continue to advocate for
parental choice and religious liberties to be upheld in ways that empower people to make choices
regarding their child’s education that are aligned to their values and beliefs.”