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Dane County private schools make plans to re-open after Supreme Court decision

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Several Madison-area private schools are making plans to open for in-person learning this week following a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision on Thursday that overturned Dane County’s order for classes to remain online.

Of the eight Catholic schools that originally challenged the order, St. Ambrose Academy on Madison’s west side has already announced its intent to open after praising the court’s decision. 

“We are grateful to the Supreme Court for hearing the voices of our small schools, parents, and over 850 supporters whose contributions made this challenge possible,” said Joan Carey, executive director of St. Ambrose Academy.

The academy petitioned the Supreme Court, believing that since the Madison Metropolitan School District had already chosen to begin the semester online, Public Health Madison and Dane County’s ban on in-person instruction for grades 3-12 was directed at private schools. 

“The court recognized this attempt to shut down private schools for what it is — a slap in the face to educational choice, an affront to families who believe that children should be in school, and a direct violation of parental rights,” explained Special Counsel Erick Kaardal, who assisted several private schools including St. Ambrose in their petition.

Following the announcement of the decision last week, other private schools have begun announcing that they will be opening for in-person instruction as well, with some institutions welcoming students back as early as Monday. 

Blessed Sacrament School was one of these schools. However, it emphasized in a statement that students must do their part in taking proper precautions if the school is going to stay open.

“PLEASE stay vigilant in your COVID-19 precautions inside and outside of school,” the school stated. “We must each do our part — wearing masks, physical distancing, restricting our social interactions, attention to hand washing — to make this year safe and successful.”

Despite the excitement from schools, local officials have expressed concern for the movement to in-person instruction.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who recently called for UW-Madison to send students home and move to online-only instruction, was quick to decry the Supreme Court’s decision. 

“Public Health's order prioritized the safety and well-being of kids, parents, teachers, and the communities they call home. Tonight’s order will jeopardize those goals and may lead to more illness and needless human suffering,” Parisi said in a press release

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway also weighed in, reflecting on the court’s previous decision to overturn the state’s “Safer at Home” order.

“In May, the Supreme Court ruled that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services did not have the authority to respond immediately to this virus, and unfortunately, yesterday they indicated that local health officers do not have the ability to close schools,” Rhodes-Conway stated. “This sends the message that neither the state nor localities should be taking common-sense measures to protect the public from a deadly disease.”

Dane County is ordered to file a response to the court within thirty days.

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