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STATE HOUSE–Private schools that accept state money would be prevented from discriminating against any person, regardless of the school’s religious affiliation, if a bill that was filed Friday by Sen. J.D. Ford (D), and supported by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick (R) passes.

“My bill (SB250) prevents any school that discriminates against its teachers, staff or students from receiving taxpayer dollars,” said Ford, who added that includes discrimination based on race, disability, color, gender, gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation, national origin, religion or ancestry.

That could significantly affect private, religious school, which currently accept $161 million for 36,000 students who attend under the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, according to McCormick.

The firing of Shelly Fitzgerald from Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, terminated after her same-sex marriage became public, was the impetus for the bill. Several other instances of what Ford called discrimination also inspired the legislation.

Fitzgerald was let go because of church teaching, said school leaders, who said they do not prevent attendance by LGBTQ students, and do allow gay people to work there. 

While Ford said he did not want to dig into the religious leanings of a private school, but said the government does have a place in seeing how its money is spent.

If a school receives public taxpayer dollars, then it’s definitely in the General Assembly’s purview and jurisdiction to make sure that your money is being spent well and fairly.”

McCormick said she believes Hoosier values do not allow for discrimination.

“Never when I was a teacher, never when I was a superintendent, did I say that means for everybody except for fill in the black with a specialized or specific population of people,” she said. “Our students at admission, should not be told if they are LGBTQ themselves, or have a family member or have a staff member or employee who wants to work there, no because they are identifying in that population.”

Former Roncalli student Dominic Conover, who started the advocacy group Shelly’s Voice, said he believes he could have benefited from the potential law.

“It is difficult for me to come to terms with how much more I could have focused on my school work if a bill would have been introduced like this and passed and most likely prohibited my alma mater, Roncalli High School, from firing four LGBTQ+ individuals and allies within one school year,” he said at Friday’s news conference.

Ford said he believes the bill will get support from both Democrats and Republicans. He said he believes McCormick’s support will help the bill get a hearing.

PHOTO: Chris Davis/Emmis