Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 3, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Liberal Racine city leaders defying a Wisconsin Supreme Court restraining order on school closures are “drunk with power,” Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, tells Empower Wisconsin.
“I am stunned they were so brazen against a clear order from the Supreme Court, but I guess they don’t think they’ll pay a legal or political price,” Bender said.
Wisconsin School Choice joined parents with school-aged children and private schools in suing the city of Racine and its overreaching health administrator, Dottie-Kay Bowersox. Last month, Bowersox issued a public health order mandating all schools — public and private — in the Racine Unified School District close and move to virtual learning on Nov. 27. She cited the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), attorneys for the plaintiffs, asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up the lawsuit and issue an injunction against the local health department’s order. On Nov. 25, the court agreed and issued a restraining order preventing the city from closing the schools.
The same day, Bowersox sent an email to school administrators in Racine asserting the Court’s ruling “does not alter the status” of the city’s Safer Racine ordinance, which only applies to the city.
“Within this ordinance, school buildings will remain closed from November 27, 2020 through January 15, 2021,” Bowersox wrote.
WILL filed an emergency motion asking the court to hold the health administrator in contempt of court and fine the city $2,000 for each day it defies the injunction.
The city, as it has done in previous challenges to its strict COVID-19 health orders, shoved in some language to its existing Safer Racine ordinance to try to get around the court order, according to the Milwaukee-based civil rights law firm.
As of Wednesday, there were no updates from a state Supreme Court, up to its elbows these days in legal challenges.
For now, students in the city, including thousands of private school students, have been forced into virtual learning. None has defied the city health order, according to Bender.
Perhaps Racine’s defiance should come as little surprise. The city is run by Mayor Cory Mason, an ultra-liberal who got caught working with the local teachers union in a smear campaign against Racine’s successful school voucher program.
“They are drunk with power,” Bender said, “flexing their muscle in a time of pandemic.”
U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville), who represents Racine as part of the 1st Congressional District, said the city’s apparent circumventing of the Supreme Court order is “unbelievable.”
“It goes to this idea that, instead of utilizing resources we have to find ways to safely reopen our schools, there is a contingent of people looking for ways to close our schools,” the congressman said.
The latest orders are facing more criticism and pushback from parents, who are concerned about the long-term impacts of an inadequate virtual eduction system, and of being socially locked away. They’re not alone. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, advises districts “try as best and possible, within reason, to keep the children in school, or get them back to school.”
Bender said Mason and his health director aren’t following the science, they’re practicing politics.
“Outside of extreme situations, we should be doing everything we can to open the schools,” he said. “We’ve got to take COVID seriously, and schools are taking COVID seriously. They have created safe, clean learning environments.”