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Wisconsin Parents Sue City For Closing Down Schools
school closed
Mariarosaria Di Mauro/Getty Images

A group of Wisconsin parents, along with School Choice Wisconsin, is suing the city of Racine after the city closed its schools, defying a Wisconsin Supreme Court restraining order preventing the city from closing the schools.

The sequence of events preceding the lawsuit included Dottie-Kay Bowersox, the City of Racine Public Health Administrator, issuing a public health order on November 12 in which she required all schools within the jurisdiction of the Racine Public Health Department to close their buildings while urging them to switch to virtual learning from Nov. 27, 2020, through Jan. 15, 2021.

Bowersox stated, “We’re concerned that, again, individuals will not be responsible. They will interact with individuals outside their home. They’ll go to gatherings and such. They won’t be masked. They won’t keep social distancing, and they won’t stay home when they’re ill.”

Roughly one week later, five private schools along with two separate groups represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court asking for an injunction against Bowersock’s order.

Anthony Lococo from WILL stated, “They’re having their schedules disrupted, they’re losing the benefits of in-person instruction. These schools have put in a ton of time to adopt cleaning, hygiene, protective measures, safety policies, and procedures, to ensure that they can open safely — and now they’ve been given a very short notice to basically switch to virtual.”

On Nov. 25, the court agreed, issuing a restraining order that barred the city from closing the schools. But according to Empower Wisconsin, “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.” She wrote, “Within this ordinance, school buildings will remain closed from November 27, 2020 through January 15, 2021.”

The official’s actions prompted the current lawsuit.

Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, told 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.”

Empower Wisconsin pointed out, “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.”

The Maciver Institute reported in April 2019 that Racine Mayor Cory Mason was involved in an effort with the local teachers union to target Racine’s school voucher program: “Racine Mayor Cory Mason and city officials coordinated with the school district and the local teachers union on what critics say is a misinformation campaign about the Racine Parental Choice Program, according to internal emails obtained by the MacIver Institute.”

Bender said of city officials, “They are drunk with power, flexing their muscle in a time of pandemic.”

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville), who represents Racine, slammed the city’s actions, asserting they were “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.”

Bender concluded, “Outside of extreme situations, we should be doing everything we can to open the schools. We’ve got to take COVID seriously, and schools are taking COVID seriously. They have created safe, clean learning environments.”

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