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Wisconsin Spotlight | Dec. 1, 2020

MADISON — Racine’s health chief defied the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s injunction against closing the city’s schools, according to an emergency motion by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). 

The motion, filed Monday, asks the court to hold Dottie-Kay Bowersox and Racine’s Public Health Department in contempt of court. 

On Nov. 25, the Supreme Court agreed to take WILL’s lawsuit and slapped a temporary injunction halting the health department’s order that mandated schools cancel in-person learning and move to all-virtual education in the face of rising COVID-19 cases.  

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. 

“Within this ordinance, school buildings will remain closed from November 27, 2020 through January 15, 2021,” Bowersox wrote. 

WILL said the people it represents — parents with school-aged children, private schools and associations of schools — “were thrown into immediate and utter confusion, with a ‘new’ closure mandate. The mandate appears to be in direct conflict with the court’s order.  

“This confusion was magnified by the closure of governmental entities on Thursday for Thanksgiving,” the Milwaukee public interest law firm argues.  

The city, as it has done in previous challenges to the health department’s broad public health orders, quickly changed its ordinance the day after WILL filed its lawsuit. It added that the agency now calls for “school buildings to be closed beginning November 27th, 2020 through January 15th, 2021 . . . . for all students, faculty, staff, and administrative personnel.’” 

Bowersox believes she can get around the court’s decision by enacting a new order identical to the one the court recently blocked, according to the motion.  

WILL also asks the court to impose fines of up to $2,000 for each day it fails to follow the injunction, and compensation for schools and parents harmed by Bowersox’s actions. 

“Wisconsin Supreme Court orders are neither optional or advisory. We expect the City of Racine to immediately allow schools to open or face sanctions from the Court,” said Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president and general counsel in a statement. 

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