Empower Wisconsin | Aug. 29, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Another Dane County private school is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to stop Public Heath Madison & Dane County’s sweeping order prohibiting all in-person education in Dane County’s public and private schools.
St. Ambrose Academy in Madison has raised more than $100,000 to fight the health department’s restrictive edict in court, and it has enlisted the help of a top constitutional attorney, Misha Tseytin, former solicitor general for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, to lead the legal challenge.
Angela Hineline, enrollment manager for the 6-12 Catholic school and St. Ambrose parent, told Empower Wisconsin the health department didn’t bother to respond to the school’s petition for relief.
“That lack of response sadly speaks volumes, telling us we absolutely have to fight this until the end so the voiceless have a voice,” Hineline said. “We believe parents know best and they ought to be able to determine what’s best for their child. So now here we are. We have to defend these rights, recognized by the constitution.”
The emergency petition asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order by no later than Friday, Sept. 4 so that schools may open in-person on Monday Sept. 7.
Earlier this week, attorneys for Sara Lindsey James, a single parent from Fitchburg, filed a petition for review asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to stop the health order, which requires schools go to an all-virtual education model for students in grades 3 and up. Health officials say they are concerned that in-person instruction would spark a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“This is a case about fundamental rights of children and the awesome power of government,” the petition states. “At issue is whether one unelected official has the power to order children to ‘stay home’ from school whether or not they are sick, or to prohibit them from gathering in-person with other children to receive a religious education.”
On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty also asked the Supreme Court to review the health order. The Milwaukee-based civil liberties law firm is representing Chris Truitt, a parent from DeForest.
“The order by the Dane County health department to prevent our child from attending his sophomore year of high school in person is detrimental to his, and all students’, academic growth,” Truitt said in a press release. “Our son struggles with a learning disorder and the lack of in-person instruction is a barrier for his development. We were confident in our school’s plans to reopen safely and are now concerned that our son will fall further behind in his critical high school years.”
While the health department didn’t respond, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi took his usual big-government-knows best approach to the pushback by private schools.
“The order for schools is lawful and we will defend it vigorously, because the reason Public Health put it in place is worth fighting for — the health of our kids and community,” Parisi said in a statement.
If it’s about the kids, though, why is the Madison Metropolitan School District turning some of their schools into childcare centers where adults will help students go online to take part in virtual learning sessions led by teachers based at home?
The Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this month rejected a petition from parents seeking relief from Milwaukee’s overreaching health officer.
The court’s dismissal effectively frees Milwaukee Public Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik to exercise sweeping power in issuing what one official described as an “11th hour” order blocking in-person education and disrupting the plans and lives of schools, teachers, students and parents.
Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley was the lone dissenting vote on a court now led by a slim 4-3 majority.