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Wisconsin Supreme Court hands huge victory to schools to teach kids in classrooms

Thomas More Society

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The government had hoped to restrict private schools to 'remote learning' for ostensible fear of COVID-19 fallout.

MADISON, Wisconsin, September 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court handed a victory to the private schools, students, and school families in Dane County, Wisconsin, on September 10, 2020. Dane County, in which the state capital of Madison is located, sought to ban private schools, religious and independent, from providing in-person, in-classroom education to students and families that desire it and are willing to pay for it.

“The court recognized this attempt to shut down private schools for what it is — a slap in the face to educational choice, an affront to families who believe that children should be in school, and a direct violation of parental rights,” explained Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal, who is part of the team representing the independent schools and their constituencies and working directly with St. Ambrose Academy, one of the schools petitioning for relief.

On August 21, 2020, reacting to fears about the potential spread of COVID-19, Public Health Madison & Dane County issued Emergency Order #9, which as amended September 1, 2020, purports to prohibit schools throughout Dane County from providing in-person instruction to students.

Thomas More Society Executive President and General Counsel Andrew Bath responded to the Wisconsin Supreme Court Order. “We are pleased that the court has seen the problems with Dane County’s illegal order and has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the county from enforcing it.”

The court’s opinion declared that the petitioners “have substantial interests in advancing childhood education and providing students a stable and effective learning environment,” and noted that they “went to great lengths — and expended non-negligible sums — to provide students, teachers, and staff the ability to resume in-person instruction with safety precautions in place.”

Additionally, the court observed that these “educational institutions and parents voluntarily seek in-person instruction, understanding the health risks associated with doing so,” and labeled the county order that attempts to shut the schools down as “both broad and without apparent precedent.”

Most significantly, observed Bath, “The state’s high court stated unequivocally that ‘Overriding the choices of parents and schools, who also undoubtedly care about the health and safety of their teachers and families, intrudes upon the freedoms ordinarily retained by the people under our constitutional design.’ That’s something that none of us can allow to go unchallenged.”

Dane County is ordered to file a response to the court within thirty days, and the court set forth a briefing schedule as three consolidated lawsuits proceed together to the next hearing in the matter.

Read the Supreme Court of Wisconsin Order issued September 10, 2020, regarding three cases, James v. Heinrich, Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools, et al. v. Heinrich, et al., and St. Ambrose Academy, Inc., et al. v. Parisi, et al., granting leave to commence an original action relating to Dane County Emergency Order #9, as requested on plaintiffs behalf by the Thomas More Society here.