State Supreme Court puts pause on Dane County Madison public health order barring in-person school

Scott Girard:

Schools in Dane County that want to open for in-person education can do so immediately for all grades after the state Supreme Court temporarily blocked enforcement of the Public Health Madison & Dane County order requiring virtual learning for grades 3-12.

The court’s conservative majority issued the 4-3 ruling [PDF document], which combined three cases brought against Emergency Order No. 9 since its Aug. 21 announcement, just before 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The court will consider the arguments against the case on its merits in the months to come, but the order is on hold in the meantime. Thursday’s opinion, which lawyers believe is the first time the court has weighed in on a local COVID-19 order since the pandemic began, indicates those seeking to overturn the order will have a good chance to win.

“First, based upon the briefing submitted at this stage, Petitioners are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim,” the opinion states, adding that “local health officers do not appear to have statutory authority to do what the Order commands.”

Parents, private and parochial schools and membership associations brought the lawsuits challenging Public Health Madison & Dane County director Janel Heinrich’s authority to close schools. They maintain that schools planning to open took precautions over the summer to follow guidance issued by PHMDC to make in-person learning safe.

In its announcement of the Aug. 21 order, PHMDC outlined positive case averages that would be required to allow in-person school for grades 3-5 and 6-12. With the recent uptick in positive cases, mostly among UW-Madison students returning to campus, Dane County was unlikely to reach those numbers anytime soon.

Logan Wroge:

Related: Catholic schools will sue Dane County Madison Public Health to open as scheduled

Notes and links on Dane County Madison Public Health. (> 140 employees).

Molly Beck and Madeline Heim:

which pushed Dane County this week not to calculate its percentage of positive tests — a data point the public uses to determine how intense infection is in an area.   

While positive test results are being processed and their number reported quickly, negative test results are taking days in some cases to be analyzed before they are reported to the state. 


The department said it was between eight and 10 days behind in updating that metric on the dashboard, and as a result it appeared to show a higher positive percentage of tests and a lower number of total tests per day.

The department said this delay is due to the fact data analysts must input each of the hundreds of tests per day manually, and in order to continue accurate and timely contact tracing efforts, they prioritized inputting positive tests.

“Positive tests are always immediately verified and processed, and delays in processing negative tests in our data system does not affect notification of test results,” the department said in a news release. “The only effect this backlog has had is on our percent positivity rate and daily test counts.”

Staff have not verified the approximately 17,000 tests, which includes steps such as matching test results to patients to avoid duplicating numbers and verifying the person who was tested resides in Dane County.

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