The Wisconsin Supreme Court temporarily suspended restrictions barring most schools in Dane County — including private and religious schools — from holding in-person classes, ruling against the county which argued that restrictions were necessary to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Schools that educate students in grades three through 12 had been ordered by the county to educated students virtually. But after the court ruled in favor of a coalition of private religious schools that challenged the order, many private schools are preparing to restart in-person learning for their students, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
“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,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal said.
Kaardal is part of the team representing the independent schools and their constituencies that filed a lawsuit against the county.
“We really believe that in-person instruction is the better mode, compared to virtual,” Chuck Moore, principal of High Point Christian School, which has campuses in Madison and Mt. Horeb, told WPR.
“We’re a religious school, and we have a dual mission — we want to help the students grow academically, but we also want them to grow spiritually, and both of those modes seem to be less well done, from the perspective of parents, and also from national testing that is showing that children are struggling to get the same value from education when it's virtual,” Moore added.
The conservative legal group’s Executive President and General Counsel Andrew Bath said, “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.”
Public Health Madison & Dane County issued Emergency Order No. 9 on Aug. 1 and amended it on Sept. 1, which prohibited schools throughout Dane County from providing in-person instruction to students.
The court’s opinion declared that the petitioners “have substantial interests in advancing childhood education and providing students a stable and effective learning environment.” It also 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.”
Angela Hineline, director of Learning and Enrollment Services at St. Ambrose Academy in Madison, said 64 of the 66 families had told the school they wanted an in-person option, according to WPR.
“We just really believe that the right to determine what is the safest, most secure, most stable situation for a child really needs to be in the hands of a parent, because they have a full picture of each child's life circumstance,” she was quoted as saying. “It was really upsetting for us, given what we know especially about our families in risk situations. It was really distressing for us to see that they would be blocked from something that they needed.”
The court also observed that these “educational institutions and parents voluntarily seek in-person instruction, understanding the health risks associated with doing so,” and deemed the county's order as “both broad and without apparent precedent.”