Racine health officer issued school closure order in November 2020
The News: 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. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed an original action to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on November 19, on behalf of a group of parents, schools, and membership associations. The Court granted WILL’s 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.
Quote: WILL President and General Counsel, Rick Esenberg, said, “The Court determined, once again, that a local public health officer violated the law when it ordered all schools in her jurisdiction closed. This marks another important case reminding public officials that emergencies do not override the rule of law.”
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. When Racine issued this order, WILL had already filed an original action to the Wisconsin Supreme Court challenging Dane County’s school closure order and obtained an order enjoining it.
WILL filed an original action to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on November 19, on behalf of a group of parents, schools, and membership associations and similarly earned a temporary injunction blocking Racine’s school order while the Court decided the challenge to Dane County.
On June 11, 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. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley, said, “Local health officers do not have the statutory authority to close schools under Wis. Stat. § 252.03.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision today confirms that Racine’s public health officer similarly lacked authority under Wis. Stat. § 252.03 and declares her order invalid.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court Order, July 2, 2021