WCRIS v. Heinrich

Case Name: WCRIS v. Heinrich

Type of Case: Rule of law, COVID-19 school closure order

Court: Wisconsin Supreme Court

Case Number:

Filed On: August 26, 2020

Current Status: The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a 4-3 decision on June 11, 2021 making clear that the Dane County health department lacked the authority to issue an order closing all schools.

PRESS RELEASES

WILL ASKS WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT TO INVALIDATE DANE COUNTY SCHOOL CLOSURE ORDER

August 26, 2020 | The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed an original action to the Wisconsin Supreme Court asking for a review of the Dane County health department’s order closing all schools, public and private, for grades 3-12.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT AGREES TO HEAR WILL CHALLENGE TO DANE COUNTY SCHOOL CLOSURE ORDER

September 10, 2020 | The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted an original action brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), consolidating it with two others, challenging the Dane County health department’s order closing all Dane County schools for grades 3-12. The Court also ordered a temporary injunction against the order, allowing Dane County schools to open while the case is under review.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN DANE COUNTY SCHOOL CLOSURE ORDER

June 11, 2021 | The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a 4-3 decision in WCRIS v. Heinrich making clear that the Dane County health department lacked the authority to issue an order closing all schools, public and private, in August 2020.

WILL EARNS AWARD FROM STATE POLICY NETWORK FOR LEGAL VICTORY THAT OPENED DANE COUNTY SCHOOLS

September 6, 2021 | WILL was awarded the “Biggest Home State Win” by the State Policy Network for a legal victory in WCRIS v. Heinrich, a case recently before the Wisconsin Supreme Court that struck down Dane County’s school closure order.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed an original action to the Wisconsin Supreme Court asking for a review of the Dane County health department’s order closing all schools, public and private, for grades 3-12. The original action is filed on behalf of 8 Dane County families, 5 private schools, School Choice Wisconsin Action, and the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools (WCRIS).

Background

Order #9, issued on Friday August 21 by Public Health Madison & Dane County, closed all schools, public and private, for in-person learning for grades 3-12 in Dane County effective Monday August 24. The order came after 5 pm and without warning for a number of private schools in Dane County that were preparing to start in-person instruction the week of August 24. At least one Dane County private school had already been open for a week when Order #9 was issued. All of WILL’s private school clients were planning on providing in-person instruction this fall and had invested significant resources into creating a safe environment for their students to return. The result has been frustration and chaos for Dane County parents and schools.

WILL’s original action asks the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review important questions concerning Order #9 and the authority of Public Health Madison & Dane County to close private schools.

  • Wisconsin statutes do not give county health departments the authority to order the closure of schools for in-person instruction.
  • Public Health Madison & Dane County cannot meet its burden of showing that school closures are “necessary” to combat COVID-19 based on Dane County’s own data and the less burdensome approach it has taken toward regulating other sectors of society. For instance, childcare in Dane County remains open but schools must close for grades 3-12.
  • Order #9 unconstitutionally infringes upon the constitutional right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children by sending them to private school to receive in-person instruction.
  • Order #9 unconstitutionally infringes upon the constitutional right of parents to freely exercise their religion, which includes sending their children to private, religious schools to receive religious instruction and formation.

Status

The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted an original action brought by the WILL, consolidating it with two others, challenging the Dane County health department’s order closing all Dane County schools for grades 3-12. The Court also ordered a temporary injunction against the order, allowing Dane County schools to open while the case was under review.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a 4-3 decision in June 2021 making clear that the Dane County health department lacked the authority to issue an order closing all schools, public and private, in August 2020. 

Rick Esenberg

Rick Esenberg

President and General Counsel

rick@will-law.org

Anthony Lococo

Anthony Lococo

Deputy Counsel

alococo@will-law.org

Lucas Vebber

Lucas Vebber

Deputy Counsel

lucas@will-law.org

Libby Sobic

Libby Sobic

Director of Education Policy

Libby@will-law.org