Students in the Deerfield School District will keep learning virtually, despite a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision on Thursday that suspended a Dane County public health order, that had closed schools due to COVID-19.
Deerfield students will continue to learn virtually through the end of the first quarter in early November, Superintendent Michelle Jensen said in an email this morning.
Jensen said with Dane County currently seeing spikes of COVID-19 cases,“It is really important for us to take a slow approach to any potential return...where hundreds of students would be converging in smaller spaces and increasing risk of transmission."
Jensen said that having a “strong virtual education format” in Deerfield would be crucial once returning to classes in-person, should students and staff need to quarantine due to positive COVID-19 cases.
“Having a strong foundation built now will allow students, staff and parents to more easily transition in and out of the school setting should it be needed,” Jensen said. “Getting virtual education right now will pay big dividends later when kids start returning to our buildings.”
She added that other school districts across the state that started in person are already, “moving kids back and forth between virtual and in-person due to positive COVID cases.”
“I can only imagine the continuous disruption this must present for everyone involved,” Jensen said.
Deerfield is seeing success with virtual learning so far, Jensen said, with a 99 percent attendance rate in all grade levels and families “adjusting really well.”
Administrators don’t want to hinder that progress, she said.
“Quite frankly, (kids and families) are knocking it out of the park. I am very proud of them and I am very proud of the dedicated efforts of our staff,” Jensen said.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily suspended a Dane County order that requires children in third grade and up, who are not in special education, to attend school virtually due to COVID-19.
In a 4-3 decision released Thursday, the court's conservative-backed majority issued a temporary injunction that allows schools in Dane County to open all grade levels immediately. The injunction was ordered while the high court considers a legal challenge brought by religious school groups and parents.
In a release Thursday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said “tonight's decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court will put kids and teachers back in group settings just as this pandemic hits a new peak in this community."
“Dane County reported a record 456 new cases of COVID-19 today. Our one county accounted for one third of all of Wisconsin's cases, as test positivity rates hit new highs. This virus is here and it's spreading. The short-term effects have been well documented, but now scientists are also sounding alarm over the long-term health consequences of this virus like premature heart disease," Parisi said.
“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 continued. "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."
In a release Thursday night, Public Health Madison and Dane County said it is "disappointed in this decision and strongly urge all schools to continue voluntary phasing-in of classes for in-person instruction for grades 3-12 per Public Health Madison & Dane County recommendations."
“The purpose of these orders has been and continues to be to protect the health and safety of our communities,” said Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County. “We don’t have a vaccine. We don’t have an effective treatment. In the absence of other options, and a dramatic increase in recent cases, limiting gatherings and person-to-person interactions continues to be the essential part of controlling the spread of COVID-19.”
In a release Friday, a national not-for-profit law firm “dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty,” called the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision “a victory” for private schools, students, and school families.
The Thomas More Society said in a release that Dane County sought in its school closure order “to ban private schools, religious and independent, from providing in-person, in-classroom education to students and families that desire it and are willing to pay for it.”
“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,” said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal, who is part of the team representing the independent schools and their constituencies and working directly with St. Ambrose Academy, one of the schools that brought the suit against the county.
“We are pleased that the court has seen the problems with Dane County’s illegal order and has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the county from enforcing it,” Thomas More Society Executive President and General Counsel Andrew Bath said.