Dane County health officials urge virtual learning; file motion in state Supreme Court case

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MADISON, Wis. — Health officials in Dane County on Tuesday urged school leaders to keep learning virtual, saying that although a court injunction would allow in-person learning, it’s too risky amid a recent COVID-19 spike.

Public Health Madison & Dane County said in a news release that it has filed a motion Tuesday with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in its ongoing case regarding closing schools in Emergency Order No. 9.

Three separate lawsuits from families and religious schools were filed against PHMDC’s Emergency Order, which, in part, required that students in grades 3-12 not attend school in person because of the pandemic. The court on Thursday granted the petitioners emergency temporary injunctive relief on restrictions to in-person learning.

With the temporary injunction, Dane County schools can open for in-person classes while the case proceeds through court.

PHMDC said the motion it filed was to inform the court of additional statutes that support a local health officer’s authority to close schools.

“We are hopeful the court will consider these statutes and lift the temporary injunction,” the agency said in the release.

The day before the injunction was granted, Dane County hit a one-day record of cases with 486 cases. Public health officials said Dane County has a “high and growing burden of disease.”

PHMDC said a slow, phased approach to schools opening minimizes risk of spreading the virus.

“Schools are a reflection of our community,” PHMDC said in the release. “If the number of people who have COVID-19 in our community is high and growing, we could see that reflected in schools if they were to broadly open to in-person instruction. In areas without phased reopenings, such as in Rock and Green Counties, there have already been outbreaks that warranted closures, which is further evidence that a slow approach is appropriate.”

On Tuesday, the Iowa-Grant Elementary/Middle School announced it would be closed for the rest of the week due to coronavirus concerns. On Monday, the School District of Janesville announced two of its schools would pivot to online learning to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.

Officials said they will continue to meet with schools weekly to listen to concerns, answer questions and connect school leaders with resources.

“We strongly urge school leadership to continue providing instruction for grades 3-12 virtually,” the release said. “Each of us must do our part to reduce the spread of the virus. When we all limit trips out, avoid gathering, wear our masks, stay six feet from others, and follow other public health recommendations, the virus can’t spread as easily. When the virus can’t spread, our case count goes down, and schools will be able to reopen and stay open.”