WILL Goes to Court in Rural School Choice Fight

Summary judgment hearing to determine fate of vacant elementary school

The News: Attorneys from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) will participate in a summary judgment hearing, Monday, in a rural school choice case before the Shawano County Circuit Court. WILL represents Shepherd’s Watch, a Mattoon-based Christian community group, attempting to purchase a vacant school building. The Village of Mattoon and the Town of Hutchins are in a legal dispute with the Antigo School District over ownership of the vacant elementary school in Mattoon, Wisconsin.

Monday’s summary judgment hearing will occur at 10:30 am, in-person, before Shawano County Circuit Court Judge William F Kussel Jr.

The Quote: WILL Senior Counsel, Don Daugherty, said, “This a vital fight, not just for the future of this community, but for rural communities across Wisconsin that deserve quality, local educational options. We are hopeful that this case will ultimately result in a school serving children, not an empty building being hoarded by a school district.”

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 (90 minutes round-trip) 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 in August 2019, making Shepherd’s Watch a full party to the case and allowing WILL to make legal arguments to the Court on their behalf.

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