“It requires local health officers to ‘promptly take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases,’ and authorizes them to ‘do what is reasonable and necessary’ for the prevention and suppression of disease. Nothing about those words necessarily prevents Dane County’s Public Health Director from closing schools to suppress and control COVID-19,” Dallet wrote. Justice Rebecca Dallet, part of the court’s liberal minority, said the court’s majority was misinterpreting a simple statute. The ruling does not preclude state health officials from issuing orders to close schools, however.
RELATED:Supreme Court rules Gov. Evers can’t limit bars and restaurant capacity without Legislature “While Heinrich allowed schools to use their premises for child care and youth recreational activities, the government barred students from attending Mass, receiving Holy Communion at weekly Masses with their classmates and teachers, receiving the sacrament of Confession at school,” Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in the majority opinion.
RELATED:Appeals court orders COVID-19 data to be made public, but case will likely go to state Supreme Court The court’s four conservative members in the majority opinion said state law governing health officers’ powers during pandemics does not allow local officials to close school buildings and that the order violated the religious private school students’ right to free exercise of religion.
Plaintiffs applaud course correction for future health emergencies Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty that represented petitioners, said the ruling provides a “critical correction” for the future. “This ruling impedes our ability to respond to any disease that might impact students, teachers, and school staff, and impacts family and friends beyond the walls of the school,” she said. “Unnecessary, preventable illness may certainly occur as a result of this ruling.”
Heinrich said local health officials will no longer be able to issue orders to contain measles, whooping cough or flu outbreaks in schools. In a statement, Heinrich said, “This decision hinders the ability of local health officers in Wisconsin to prevent and contain public health threats for decades to come.”
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