The Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is defending a private high school in northern Indiana after a top Republican lawmaker admonished the school for “disgusting” behavior.
Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Mishawaka, said in a letter published to Facebook earlier this month that issues with the school’s policies, as well as alleged “mistreatment and bullying” of students by a staff member, amounted to “the most disgusting situation I have encountered in my 20 years in the Senate.”
He said the series of events should further serve as a warning to parents to “beware” of non-public schools.
Mishler does not name the school outright, but his letter points to the same Mishawaka high school where his son is enrolled as a senior.
The local Catholic Diocese responded in its own letter published Friday, in which it takes issue with Sen. Mishler’s “perspective on the matters referenced” in his letter.
“Senator Mishler’s post is his opinion, but he leaves out information and makes comments on issues when he does not know the full details,” the diocese said in a statement. “He was not privy to confidential interviews with parents, details of investigations, and actions taken because he was not present, and the information is confidential. There are a number of substantial half-truths and omissions in his post.”
Mishler said in his letter that he was previously contacted by a parent at the school who said their child—a student athlete—was suspended for five athletic games for “consensually kissing a girl in school.”
Mishler attempted to advocate on the student’s behalf but said there was “little due process” for the athlete. But the diocese maintained that “no student has ever been suspended for simply engaging in a consensual kiss.”
The senator also recounted later complaints he fielded from multiple other parents about alleged misconduct by a staff member at the school. He said parents expressed “worry” over a school employee’s conduct that caused “neglect and humiliation” for a student.
Mishler said he discussed the parents’ concerns with the staff member, principal and other school leadership directly, but “to no avail.” He maintained, too, that while the school pledged to “investigate fully” and provide a copy of the bullying policy, those promises were not kept.
The diocese said Mishler was not a parent of an affected student, however.
“He was advised that standard practice and policy, as well as pertinent law, did not allow Marian’s administration to speak with a parent, such as him, about matters involving another parent’s child or to disclose confidential personnel information regarding its staff, such as disciplinary actions,” the diocese said in its statement.
Marian administrators made themselves available and “met with every parent that requested the opportunity to present concerns regarding the staff member at issue,” according to the diocese.
“They listened, investigated, and took what they considered appropriate remedial actions. Because it is a personnel issue, by policy Marian cannot disclose the specific actions taken as a result of the information provided by their parents,” diocese officials said.
Diocesan officials said they additionally “fail to understand why this is now being raised as an issue in Senator Mishler’s Facebook post.”
Mishler, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, has pledged not to support “one additional dollar spent” on Indiana’s voucher program until lawmakers enact policies to “protect these kids from abusive behavior and mistreatment.”
An expansion of Indiana’s education scholarship accounts—of which state dollars would largely go to private schools—has already sat untouched in Mishler’s committee for more than four weeks. The bill has to be acted on by the Thursday deadline, or it dies.
Other Republicans, though, seem comfortable with the accountability and House Republicans proposed a massive expansion of the state’s voucher program that was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday.
Mishler has not yet responded to the statement from the diocese.
“In his post, Senator Mishler claims to be a proponent of transparency. That is a laudable trait,” diocese officials said. “Marian also endorses transparency, especially with parents when it comes to matters involving their children who are students. However, Marian’s ability to be transparent in the public forum concerning matters involving its students and staff is limited by not only the law but even more so by policy based upon the respect it has for privacy owed to each of them. That limits Marian’s ability to be more specific concerning matters included in Senator Mishler’s post.”
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.