Verona Area School District’s K-2s head back to class

New Century School and Verona Area International School secretary Tammy Stump waves hello to a student getting out of their car on the first day. The first day of school was Tuesday, Sept. 8, a week later than initially planned to give staff more time for professional development.

The way Verona Area School District educates students will not change as a result of the state Supreme Court’s temporary block of Public Health Madison and Dane County’s Order No. 9 on Sept. 10.

In a Sept. 11 email sent to families, superintendent Dean Gorrell wrote the enjoinment of the order, which prohibited students in grades 3-12 from receiving in-person instruction, will not change how the district teaches its students. In late July, the Verona Board of Education approved half-day, in-person education for students in grades K-2, with the option for students who have Individual Education Plans or 504 Plans to receive in-person education.

PHMDC’s Order No. 9, released Friday, Aug. 21, initially prohibited all students in grades 3-12 from receiving in-person education. But PHMDC later amended that order to allow students with special needs to be in schools.

Gorrell wrote all other aspects of the county’s requirements for school operations, including social distancing and health policies, are not affected by the Supreme Court’s decision.

“In the meantime and until further notice, we will continue with our current instructional delivery model,” Gorrell wrote in the email. “This pandemic has taught all of us that what we know and understand today is subject to change. Thank you for rolling with these changes.”

Gorrell said it was left unclear whether PHMDC has any authority to close classrooms, schools or districts as a result of outbreaks.

The ruling came after three separate lawsuits from parents, private and parochial schools and a conservative-leaning law firm were filed against PHMDC to the Supreme Court. The court ruled 4-3, with the conservative majority ruling Dane County schools would be able to teach students in-person. Meanwhile, the court will consider whether PHMDC director Janel Heinrich overstepped her statutory authority.

In the body of the opinion the court provided in the enjoinment, it indicated the petitioners of the lawsuit are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim.

“While reserving the remaining claims for later disposition, we conclude that local health officers do not appear to have statutory authority to do what the Order commands,” the opinion reads.

County executive Joe Parisi wrote in a Sept. 10 news release the Supreme Court’s decision jeopardizes the county’s goals of safety and well-being of children, parents and teachers, and will lead to additional illness and needless human suffering.

“Tonight’s decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court will put kids and teachers back in group settings just as this pandemic hits a new peak in this community,” he wrote. “Dane County reported a record 456 new cases of COVID-19 today ... this virus is here and it’s spreading. The short-term effects have been well documented, but now scientists are also sounding alarm over the long-term health consequences of this virus like premature heart disease.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.