The Warwick School District board plans to vote later this month on whether to hire a religious liberties law firm to provide advice on how the district responds to new federal rules expanding protections for LGBTQ+ students.

At a Tuesday night meeting, Vice President Scott Landis recommended that the board vote on whether to enlist the Independence Law Center at its next meeting Tuesday, May 21. President Emily Zimmerman said she agreed.

Independence Law Center is a Harrisburg-based firm that has worked with other school districts to restrict student access to library books and write rules restricting transgender students’ use of restrooms and locker rooms.

The announcement, anticipated by scores of residents who showed up at Tuesday night’s non-voting meeting, marks the evangelical Christian law firm’s latest “pro bono” offer to a public school board — a dynamic that has divided other communities in Lancaster County and beyond.

It also came three weeks after it was first reported that Landis and Zimmerman met privately with the law center’s chief counsel, Randall Wenger.

Landis defended the meeting. “We often have meetings, Emily and myself, with the counsel, other third parties,” Landis said. “It’s how most school boards operate.”

Landis said the expertise offered by Wenger and Independence Law Center would be helpful in light of recent updates to Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination.

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Warwick School Board Vice President Scott Landis, photographed May 7, 2024. 

The Biden administration last month added new protections for public school students based on sexual orientation and gender identity, part of an overhaul to the law that also added rights for victims of sexual assault on college campuses.

The new federal rules contain much stronger protections for transgender students, and schools that restrict a student’s preferred pronouns or what restroom they use may run afoul of the new laws. However, they do not weigh in on the issue of transgender athletes’ rights.

Reached by email, Wenger said the new regulations, set to begin August 1, could be blocked by recently filed lawsuits.

“Either way, the new regulations continue to permit schools to make biological sex-based distinctions, such as on sports teams,” Wenger said.

Attorney Randall Wenger

Randall Wenger, an attorney for the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center, stands outside Zig's Bakery in Warwick Township on Friday, March 31, 2023.

Transgender students’ rights to play sports, use restrooms and describe themselves with pronouns matching their gender identity have been frequent targets of the Independence Law Center at other schools.

The law firm helped Hempfield School District craft the state’s first transgender athlete ban in 2022. Also that year, Easter Lancaster County School District enlisted the firm to write policies barring transgender teens from using school restrooms that align with their gender identity. More recently, the law firm has contracted with school districts in York County and Cumberland County.

“I think this organization is known for having expertise in this particular area,” Landis said. “I think they can be helpful to the school board in navigating some of these areas, particularly in light of the recent changes to Title IX and the litigation coming out of that. It doesn’t mean we have to take any of their advice.”

Zimmerman agreed with Landis’s proposal, calling it a matter of “good governance.” She said the lawyer would work with two other members of the school district’s legal team.

“To not be doing our due diligence and seeking advisement from a well-rounded team of legal counsel, I think would be a disservice to this school district,” Zimmerman said.

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Residents voice opposition

Tuesday night’s meeting, where about 100 people filled the board room and two adjacent rooms, was the political opposite of what played out at school board meetings that occurred during the pandemic in 2021.

Then, people affiliated with parental rights groups Warwick Parents for Change and the local Moms for Liberty chapter often dominated the conversation. Several of those people went on to win seats on the school board.

But on Tuesday, the public comments were dominated by teachers, local pastors and dozens of parents loudly opposing hard-right policies seen as anti-inclusive and ripe for lawsuits.

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People gather outside of the Warwick school district office in anticipation of the May 7, 2024 Committee of the Whole meeting. 

Esther De La Cruz of Lititz dug into the Internet Archive to show how the Independence Law Center website has changed over the years.

Prior to its work with Hempfield School District in 2022, the law center’s website said it existed “to defend your right to live out your Christian faith,” De La Cruz said. The center changed “Christian” to “religious” a few years ago, and today it simply reads that it is “a civil rights law firm.“

She also pointed out that the law center is the legal arm of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which she said is “committed to ending abortion, making sure that marriage is only for heterosexual couples, and preventing adoption by gay couples.”

“I’m a lesbian mother, and that’s upsetting to me on a deep level,” De La Cruz said. Fighting back tears, she added that “the dissolution of my marriage is one of their core tenets.”

Pastor Matt Lenahan of Zion Lutheran Church in Akron, who has children in the district, said of the law center’s work, “They promote and advance the ideology of Christian Nationalism, which is neither Christ-like nor patriotic.”

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Library books

School board members also said they may vote to disband the library materials review committee, a panel of educators and librarians that has been criticized by some parents for approving some books and not others.

Landis said the committee may have outlived its usefulness, and its duties could be better handled by the education committee.

Board member Michael Brown raised issues about the library book review committee and the “challenge” process to have a book removed. Zimmerman and Landis said he was conflating more than one issue.

To Lititz resident Arielle Miller, this revived old topics that have already been discussed at length and settled. In the past, some parents have pushed to replace an “opt out” policy for parents who don’t want their child to read a book with a policy requiring parents to approve books ahead of time.

“We’ve had this discussion before,” Miller said. “We have an excellent opt out policy.”

But some parents disagreed. Jess Musser of Warwick Township said the committee unfairly singles out some books in favor of others. She pointed to 15 books the committee rejected due to “religious issues” while allowing the library to continue to stock books “depicting sex acts and use of sex toys.”

Musser said it was hypocritical to criticize the board’s actions as not representing “all students” when there are many Christian students enrolled in the district excluded by these decisions.

“Where is the outrage for the kids who want to learn the religious tenets?” Musser asked. “Where’s the opt out policy for that? There’s so much hypocrisy.”

This reporter’s work is funded by the Lancaster County Local Journalism Fund. For more information, or to make a contribution, please visit

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Hempfield School District's transgender athlete policy was passed in 2022. 

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