Wisconsin Supreme Court Blocks Racine School Closure Order, Grants WILL Original Action

Published on: November 25, 2020

Case held in abeyance while Court considers Dane County school closure order

The News: 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. WILL filed the original action on November 19, on behalf of a group of parents, schools, and membership associations. The case will be 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.

The Quote: WILL President and General Counsel, Rick Esenberg, said, “We are pleased the Court granted this original action and issued an injunction. As in the case against Dane County currently before the Court, this is an important step to underscore that local health officers, however well-intentioned, lack the legal authority to close all schools for in-person learning.”

Background: 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 in August. 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 actions 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 will hear oral arguments in WCRIS v. Heinrich on December 8.

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