MADISON – A legal advocacy organization filed an emergency motion with the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday contending that the Racine Department of Public Health has no right to order the closure of schools, within the city limits, in an effort to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty (WILL) argued that the city health department should be found in contempt for ordering all city schools closed because of a Nov. 25 Wisconsin Supreme Court temporary injunction against an earlier city order affecting schools in the City of Racine and the Villages of Wind Point and Elmwood Park. In that injunction, the state high court agreed that it would not decide on whether the order was legal until it decided on a similar case related to Dane County school closures. Oral arguments in the Dane County case are scheduled for Dec. 8.
Citing an escalation in COVID-19 cases, Racine’s city health department on Nov. 12 ordered all public and private schools within its jurisdiction (City of Racine, Wind Point and Elmwood Park) to suspend in-person classes from Nov. 27 through Jan. 15. After receiving the Nov. 25 temporary injunction, Racine Public Health Administrator Dottie Kay Bowersox emailed school administrators a message stating that Supreme Court’s determination “does not alter the status of the City of Racine Safer Racine Ordinance which is applicable only to the City of Racine.”
WILL called foul on that communication Monday.
“The City of Racine is attempting to illegally evade the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s injunction by enacting a new closure mandate identical to the one the Court enjoined,” WILL stated in a news release. “WILL’s clients, including private schools and parents in Racine, deserve the certainty that they have the option to legally return to the classroom without running afoul of the City of Racine Public Health Department.”
WILL filed Monday’s motion on behalf School Choice Wisconsin Action, Wisconsin Council of Religious & Independent Schools, EverGreen Academy, Racine Christian School, Racine Lutheran High School, St. John’s Lutheran Church & School, Trinity Lutheran School and individual parents. WILL asked the high court to find Bowersox and the city health department in contempt and be ordered to pay “up to $2,000 per day” to the schools and parents.
On Monday, Racine Lutheran High School, St. Catherine’s Middle and High School, St. Lucy Grade School, St. Joseph School and John Paul II Academy had converted to online learning, according to school website and social media pages. The Racine Unified School District (RUSD) has offered virtual classes since the school year began in September.
The dispute has no effect on schools located in municipalities outside the City of Racine, such as Caledonia, Mount Pleasant, or Sturtevant.