Court Grants WILL Motion to Intervene in Rural School Choice Case

Community group Shepherd’s Watch is now a party to legal dispute over vacant school

The News: The Shawano County Circuit Court granted a motion to intervene Wednesday to Shepherd’s Watch, a Mattoon-based Christian community group represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). Shepherd’s Watch is now a party to the legal dispute between the Village of Mattoon and Town of Hutchins, on the one hand, and the Antigo School District, on the other hand, over ownership of the vacant elementary school in Mattoon, Wisconsin.

The Quote: WILL Executive Vice President CJ Szafir said, “We are pleased that Shepherd’s Watch and its vision for a new school in Mattoon will be represented in this important case. This a vital fight, not just for the future of this community, but for rural communities across Wisconsin that deserve quality, local educational options. WILL looks forward to the day when the doors to Mattoon Elementary are open and the classrooms are full again.”

The Background: Antigo School District is a high poverty rural school district in northern Wisconsin. Two out of every three students are not proficient in English or Math — well below the state average. For three years, Mattoon Elementary has been vacant, forcing parents to send their children on long bus rides (45 minutes) just to attend the closest school.

Fortunately a local non-profit, Christian community group known as Shepherd’s Watch wants to operate the vacant school building left behind in Mattoon as a community center and eventually turn it into a private school in the WPCP. WPCP is the statewide school voucher program for low-income and middle-class families and is modeled after the successful Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

It is the plans for the private school that has fueled the legal dispute over the ownership of the vacant Mattoon Elementary. The Village of Mattoon is happy to sell the building to Shepherd’s Watch and welcomes the opportunity to have a local school, once again. But the Antigo School District, who also makes a legal claim on the property, is trying to restrict the deed to prevent the vacant elementary from ever becoming a choice or charter school.

On January 21, 2019, the Village of Mattoon and the Town of Hutchins, represented by Husch Blackwell in Milwaukee, filed a lawsuit in Shawano County Circuit Court to obtain a declaration regarding ownership of the property. WILL filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Shepherd’s Watch in April after the community group entered a purchase agreement with Mattoon and Hutchins.

WILL’s motion to intervene was granted Wednesday, meaning Shepherd’s Watch is a full party to the case and WILL can make legal arguments to the Court on their behalf.

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