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WILL asks Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down Racine’s order to close schools

(The Center Square) – The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on Thursday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to apply the same rules in Racine that the court applied in Madison earlier this year. At issue is whether the cities may impose school closures as a prophylactic for the spread of the coronavirus.

“Racine’s Public Health Department and Racine’s Public Health Officer and Public Health Administrator issued a school closure order that bears all the same defects of [Dane County’s] order, yet is even broader,” WILL said in its petition to the court.

On Nov. 12, Racine Public Health Administrator Dottie Kay Bowersox issued an order that closed all schools under her jurisdiction. That includes Elmwood Park, Wind Point, and schools in the city of Racine.

The order closed all school buildings. Students in Racine have been learning at home since September, but teachers were working from their classrooms.

“Outbreaks are linked to family gatherings on private property with people from outside of their household, including sports parties, baby showers, and backyard gatherings. Also, through retail establishments and employment situations,” Bowersox said when she issued her order.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is weighing the authority that local health managers have, and whether they can close schools on their own.

The justices issued a temporary injunction in the case from Dane County (James v. Heinrich) as they wait to issue a final ruling.

WILL is asking for the same in Racine.

“Although this Court has not yet finally resolved James, on September 10, 2020, it temporarily enjoined the Dane County order, ‘conclud[ing] that local health officers do not appear to have statutory authority to do what the Order commands’,” WILL wrote. “And agreeing that the ‘Petitioners [were] likely to succeed on the merits of their argument that the Order’s broad closure of schools in this case is not within the statutory grant of power to local health officers’.”

WILL President Rick Essenberg said if parents are likely to win their challenge to Dane County’s overly broad public health order that closed their schools, parents in Racine are likely to succeed as well.

“Because the issues presented in Racine are so similar, it is our hope the Court will take the original action and issue a similar injunction in Racine while the Dane County case is under consideration,” Essenberg said.

Racine’s school closure order takes effect on the day after Thanksgiving, and is scheduled to last through mid-January.

Bowersox said last week that she is trying to proactively protect teachers and families in Racine.

“Over the last nine months after every major holiday, significant spikes in positive cases occur because individual gatherings in private residences do not implement the necessary precautions.” Bowersox said. “Given that, the Public Health Department fully expects to see a sharp increase in cases yet again between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Currently, schools remain one of the largest gathering places within our jurisdiction, and after the holidays, those children and staff could become super-spreaders in the community.”

By Benjamin Yount | The Center Square
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Reposted with permission

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