Case Name: School Choice Wisconsin Action (SCWA) v. Bowersox
Type of Case: Rule of law, COVID-19 school closures
Court: Wisconsin Supreme Court
Filed On: November 19, 2020
Current Status: The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously declared on July 2, 2021 that the school closure order in Racine went beyond the authority of the local health officer.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), on behalf of a group of parents, schools, and membership associations, filed an original action petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court urging the Court to accept a legal challenge to the City of Racine’s school closure order issued on November 12. The legal challenge to the City of Racine’s order presents legal issues similar to the ones raised in WCRIS v. Public Health Madison and Dane. WILL is asking the Court to accept the case, temporarily enjoin Racine’s order, and hold the case pending a decision in WCRIS.
The City of Racine Public Health Department issued an order on November 12, closing all school buildings in the City of Racine, private and public, from November 27 to January 15 as a means of addressing COVID-19.
The City of Racine’s order is similar to Order #9, issued by Public Health Madison & Dane County on August 21. Dane County’s order closed all schools, public and private, for in-person learning for grades 3-12 in Dane County effective Monday August 24. But WILL, along with two other law firms, filed original actions to the Wisconsin Supreme Court arguing local public health officers lack the legal authority to close schools to in-person instruction.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted the original action and issued an injunction on September 10, that allowed Dane County schools to open while the case was under review. The Court concluded that the Petitioners in that case were likely to succeed on the merits of their argument that Dane County’s health officer lacked the authority to issue the challenged order.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted an original action and issued a temporary injunction blocking the City of Racine’s school closure order before it could go into effect on November 27. The case was held in abeyance pending the Court’s decision in WCRIS v. Heinrich, a legal challenge to the Dane County school closure order currently before the Court.
On July 2, 2021 the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously declared that an order from the City of Racine’s public health officer closing all schools, public and private, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is invalid and lacked proper legal authority.