The Waunakee school board received an update from its legal counsel this week, following a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that permits schools throughout the county to reopen.
Board members had requested the counsel’s presence at their Sept. 14 meeting.
Counsel Kirk Strang summarized for them the Supreme Court case in which an injunction was issued against part of a countywide order that prohibited face-to-face instruction in grades 3-12.
“This decision represents a consolidation of a few cases,” Strang said, “all of which involve petitioners who are opposed to Dane County’s order affecting in-person instruction and essentially requiring that virtual instruction take place at most grade levels.”
According to the legal counsel, the petitioners asked that the court issue a temporary injunction while litigation takes place on the grounds that they have a reasonable probability of winning their case.
The Supreme Court granted that injunction Sept. 10.
The temporary order has granted districts throughout Dane County the ability to reopen their schools until the case is settled, at which point the order could be permanently struck down.
“There will continue to be a case processed by the court,” Strang said. “But when it issues this kind of temporary injunction, that is a fairly good sign that the court is going to reach a decision in the case that is compatible with that injunctive decision.”
The court noted that only the state health department has been granted authority to close schools.
Director Brian Hoefer asked whether the court had defined the word “closing,” noting that schools were still providing instruction and serving meals to their students.
Strang said the court had not defined the term, only noted its absence in the county’s authority.
“Nothing has been said about what it means to close a school,” Strang said. “All that’s been said is, the secretary of DHS has the express authority to do it and the county does not… The power to close schools is statutorily absent.”
Discussion then turned to the timeline for reopening grades 3-4, as the board had previously expressed intent to reopen within two weeks of being able to do so.
A motion to delay the decision until Sept. 21 passed by a 6-1 vote.
The move would allow the school board time to hear from its medical advisory committee, which was formed earlier this year to provide insight into the safe reopening of schools.
“They might not give us specific metrics,” Hoefer said. “But we should at least hear them out, to get their opinion. That’s why we put this (committee) together; that’s why they’re taking the time to come in. So we need to respect that.”
Also at the Sept. 14 meeting, the school board:
- received an update from teaching staff about the first week of school.
- approved a resolution authorizing the temporary borrowing of no more than $7.9 million.
- Approved HVAC system enhancements at the intermediate, middle and high school.
- reviewed an annual report on the use of seclusion and restraint in Waunakee schools.
- approved an additional school-board meeting scheduled for Sept. 21, at 6 p.m.