The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked the City of Racine, for now, from closing all public and private schools in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction on a City of Racine Public Health Department order to close schools from Nov. 27 to Jan. 15, saying it would not decide whether the order was legal until it decided on a case about Dane County school closures.
The court's conservative justices — Patience Roggensack, Annette Ziegler, Brian Hagedorn and Rebecca Bradley — were in the majority. Liberal justices Rebecca Dallet, Ann Walsh Bradley and Jill Karofsky dissented.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty last week asked the court to put a hold on the Racine order, saying it was similar to the Dane County schools case.
In that case, WILL argued that Janel Heinrich, the director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, did not have the legal authority to close schools and that she overstepped in an Aug. 21 emergency order requiring all schools in the county — public and private, grades 3-12 — to begin the year virtually.
In September, the Supreme Court blocked Dane County from closing schools until could hear arguments, which are set for Dec. 8.
In the Racine case, WILL is representing several private schools, including EverGreen Academy, Racine Christian School, Racine Lutheran High School, St. John’s Lutheran Church and School and Trinity Lutheran School.
In a dissent, Dallet argued the Racine case is a local dispute and should be decided in a local, circuit court, and that “this court has turned into a one-stop shop for undoing local policymaking.”
“The majority's frequent exercise of original action and injunctive authority has transformed the court into the preferred forum for Wisconsinites to second-guess public-health policy choices,” the dissent read.
WILL president Rick Esenberg said in a statement the group was pleased with the decision Wednesday.
“As in the case against Dane County currently before the Court, this is an important step to underscore that local health officers, however well-intentioned, lack the legal authority to close all schools for in-person learning,” he said.
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