West Shore School District parents, community members rally against anti-LGBTQ law firm

Parents and community members demonstrating outside the West Shore School District administration building in opposition to the Independence Law Center on Mar. 18, 2024 (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

March 19, 2024

Parents and community members fearing taxpayer funded lawsuits over anti-LGBTQ policies demonstrated the West Shore School District’s decision to have a private meeting with a right-wing law firm.

Close to 100 parents, teachers and community members from the West Shore School District held a rally outside the district’s headquarters on Thursday to protest the school board’s decision to have a private, closed door meeting with the Independence Law Center (ILC). 

The ILC is the legal arm of the right-wing, anti-LGBTQ Pennsylvania Family Institue, and parents in the West Shore School District are trying to stop the organization from gaining an influence in their community. 

Danielle Gross, a local parent, warned that the law firm’s “free advice has led to other school districts facing very expensive lawsuits for the policies they help shape policies that have restricted books and targeted LGBTQIA students.”

“Hiring the ILC would not be a good decision,” she added. “And this has not been a transparent process. The public deserves transparency.”

Residents in other school districts have been left paying for legal expenses after those districts take the ILC’s legal advice in discriminating against LGBTQ students or teachers. 

WHYY reported in February 2023 that the ILC drafted a book ban policy targeting “sexualized content” that was cited in a federal case by the American Civil Liberties Union of PA. The school board spent over $1.75 million defending itself against lawsuits

“I’m concerned about the cost that may be associated with the policies that they tend to enact,” Tara High, a West Shore School District parent, said in an interview following the rally.

“I also know that other school boards have been impacted financially from this and our taxpayers can’t afford that. If you have been to any of the local meetings recently, in the last couple of months, we have needed repairs to the natatorium. We have people who want to have a turf project, maybe even a stadium type sort of thing. We don’t have millions of dollars to spend on a lawsuit because somebody wrote poor policies for our school.”

Gross, who organized Monday’s rally on a few days notice, is a communications professional that works in Harrisburg and credits the turnout on a 400 member email list that she’s cultivated since the height of the pandemic. 

“It all started way back during the beginning of the pandemic, where I was frustrated that the only voices that I felt were being heard at local school board meetings were the people who did not want any kind of mitigations happening in our schools at all,” Gross said in an interview. 

In response, Gross opened a free Gmail account, started a spreadsheet and circulated a petition amongst friends and parents that she knew living in the district and it took off from there. 

“I started updating people about the school board meetings. Not only did I live-tweet, but I started emailing them about whatever was going on at the school board at the time,” Gross said.

“There are a lot of people on the far-right who are well-funded and have all of these resources behind them, and I’m a mom with a free Gmail account, and I know how to write and I know how to communicate to people.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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