Empower Wisconsin | Aug. 25, 2020
MADISON — Three Angels Christian School in Monona had already begun the school year with in-person classes when Public Health Madison & Dane County ripped the rug out from under teachers, parents and students.
The power-grabbing health department late Friday, well past the 11th hour for schools like Three Angels, issued an order barring in-class education and mandating all schools — public and private — employ virtual learning models for the foreseeable future.
“Our parents aren’t happy. Our kids are devastated and, as teachers, we know this is not in the best interest of our students,” said Jeannie Buchholz, one of just two teachers at the little Seventh-day Adventist school.
The grades-1-through-8 school which serves just 18 students (about the size of one class in Madison’s public school system) was forced to close Monday and move everything to a virtual education model. Health bureaucrats will grant in-person learning for students in second grade and younger, provided the health department approves their COVID-19 safety plans.
Dr. Charles Moore, principal at High Point Christian School in Madison and Mount Horeb, calls the health order the “Friday Night Massacre.” He spent Monday morning meeting with teachers and preparing to move from in-person and virtual options to all-virtual. High Point has pushed back the start of the school year to Aug. 31.
Moore is most concerned about the students in his Wisconsin Parental Choice program school that are the “poorest of the poor,” and whose parents don’t have the means to pay for childcare. They’re also the students who are most likely to fall behind. Virtual learning will only widen the achievement gap, Moore said.
The health department can expect lawsuits.
St. Ambrose Academy in Madison has raised more than $70,000 to fund a legal challenge to Public Health Madison & Dane’s last-minute order.
Angela Hineline, enrollment manager for the 6-12 Catholic school and St. Ambrose parent tells Empower Wisconsin that school officials met with their legal team this morning.
“We are planning to pursue legal action,” she said. “We do believe Dane County is overreaching and limiting our ability to exercise religious freedom and to educate our children in the way we as parents believe is best.”
Private schools in Dane County said they had no advance warning of the health department’s plans. Emergency Order #9 was issued after 5 p.m. Friday, just days before several private schools were set to open for the school year. Health and school officials have been meeting twice a week throughout the summer for updates. Public Health officials failed to disclose to private school administrators during the most recent meeting that they would curtail all in-person classes.
The order requires all county schools to begin the school year virtually for students in grades 3-12, closing them to in-person pupil instruction, effective August 24, 2020 at 12:01 am.
“We are extraordinarily disappointed at this order and its timing,” Bishop Donald J. Hying and Michael J. Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Madison, wrote in a letter to parents. “You have told us of your sadness, your anger and your children’s grief as they burst into tears when you told them of the county’s decision.”
Madison’s Catholic parishes held a prayer rally Monday afternoon at Holy Name Heights.