The Wisconsin Supreme Court has temporarily blocked an order that prevented most students in Dane County from attending school in person, restrictions issued by health leaders to help control the spread of the coronavirus.

The court, a 4-3 vote, agreed Thursday night to hear a lawsuit challenging the Public Health Madison and Dane County order. The court’s conservative justices were in favor of hearing the case, while more liberal justices opposed.

The county’s order issued Aug. 21 required students in grades 3-12 be taught online. Three groups of religious schools and parents asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly and it agreed. The court issued a temporary injunction on the county’s order, which means schools across the county can open immediately.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi derided the court’s decision, saying it comes as the COVID-19 pandemic “hits a new peak in this community.”

The majority agreed with the challengers’ argument that local health officers don’t have the statutory authority to close schools, unlike a similar ability given to the state Department of Health Services, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Newly reported coronavirus cases in Wisconsin logged their highest single-day total on Thursday, with 1,547. Nearly a third of those were in Dane County.

SPASD reaction

Sun Prairie Area School District Superintendent Brad Saron said the district is maintaining its current status of online learning despite the court ruling. In an email Friday, Saron explained the district’s process.

“The SPASD completed an exhaustive analysis of over 20 reopening options and evaluated these options against criteria ranging from transportation logistics to cost analysis, equity to infection mitigation,” Saron wrote. “We also engaged in significant feedback from students, parents, and staff.

“We presented our decision for virtual learning for first quarter in July, before PHMDC [Public Health Madison Dane County] was involved in school decisions for the fall,” Saron added. “You can see the July 20th email to parents and subsequent presentations to the board HERE.

“Our process was in place before and is still in place after the state and county waffles and reverses, second guesses and disputes,” Saron wrote. “We are focused on kids, families, and staff.

“While there may be an injunction, many schools will still follow epidemiologist recommendations and public health metrics for student safety and decision making,” Saron concluded.

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