Denver Newsroom, Aug 27, 2020 / 17:01 pm
Twice a week for three months, the administration of St. Ambrose Academy in Wisconsin met with Dane County public health officials to ensure that they would be ready to reopen at the start of the school year - which was supposed to happen this week.
They drafted a 35-page plan to mitigate the risks of the coronavirus, including regulations on the flow of students, social distancing, personal protective equipment, and regular cleaning and sanitization. They leased a second building, so that their 115 students could social distance even more. The plan was released to parents, who could choose to send their students to school in person or online.
But on the evening of Aug. 21, days before the school year was set to start for St. Ambrose Academy and other private schools in the county, Public Health Madison-Dane County released Emergency Order #9, mandating that grades 3-12 begin the year online. Only grades kindergarten through second are permitted to meet in person.
“Within hours after the order was announced, I had emails in my inbox from our parents,” Angela Hineline told CNA. Hineline is a long-time St. Ambrose parent, as well as the learning services specialist and enrollment manager for the school.
“We are following all guidelines and had the rug pulled out from underneath us after hours, great expense, even renting another site,” she said. “We are a shoestring budget school; we have a very, very tight budget, and 55% of our students are on assistance.”
St. Ambrose Academy announced Aug. 26 that they had filed a demand letter on behalf of their school and multiple other Catholic schools, seeking the immediate revocation of the emergency order “by no later than Friday, August 28, 2020, at 12:00 p.m, ‘Given the unconstitutionality and unlawfulness of the School Closure Order,’ citing harm to ‘parents, children, and schools across the County.’”
Hineline said the demand letter cites the “freedom of conscience” clauses in the Wisconsin Constitution as the basis for the school’s argument, as well as other clauses that provide for school choice and religious freedom.
"The Wisconsin Constitution freedom of conscience clauses provide that the right of every person to worship almighty God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted," Hineline said, quoting the letter of demand.