Wisconsin parents sue city of Racine for shutting down schools

Schools weigh return to classrooms

School district Superintendents Dan Stepenosky and Art Javis weigh in on reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of parents and a Wisconsin school choice advocacy group are suing one city after it reportedly closed its public and private schools in defiance of a state Supreme Court ruling preventing such closures in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The suit was filed by the parents and School Choice Wisconsin after officials in Racine continued to require all schools remain closed from Nov. 27 through Jan. 15, 2021, the Daily Wire reported.

Five private schools and two other different groups — represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty — asked the court for an injunction after Racine Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox issued an order Nov. 12 requiring schools to switch to virtual learning.


“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," she said. "They won’t be masked. They won’t keep social distancing, and they won’t stay home when they’re ill.”

Opponents argued that the switch would disrupt school schedules and that students will not benefit the same as they would from in-person classes. Coronavirus is one of several factors at play that point toward allowing some kind of in-person instruction, said Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin. 

"All the schools, clearly in Racine, and around the state have worked overtime to create safe, clean facilities for students," he told Fox News. "But COVID is not the only factor in this decision. Kids need to be in school… given that option.

"There's economic impacts on the families, time commitments… all sorts of issues when you're talking about having thousands of students home," he added. 

Messages to Racine Mayor Cory Mason's office and the Public Health Department were not immediately returned. 

On Nov. 25, the state Supreme Court granted a restraining order prohibiting the city from closing schools. The order stands until the court decides on a similar case in Dane County, 100 miles west. 

"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," reported conservative website Empower Wisconsin.

A spokeswoman for the Racine Unified School District told Fox News the court order differs from the city's rules. 

"We are still closed because the city ordinance (different than the order which was enjoined by the Supreme Court) is still in effect mandating schools closed until Jan. 15," said Stacy Tapp, chief of communications and community engagement for the school district. 


The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed an emergency motion asking the court to hold Bowersox in contempt and fine the city $2,000 for each day it defies the injunction according to Empower Wisconsin.

The group also accused the city of adding language to its existing Safer Racine ordinance, a series of COVID-19 mandates, to get around the court order.

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