Law group warns Kenosha County health officials of potential overreach

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KENOSHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A conservative law group says some parents and school administrators believe Kenosha County health officials are overstepping their authority when it comes to the department's powers regarding COVID-19 protocols at schools.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sent an open letter to Kenosha County Public Health saying it heard from parents and school administrators the department claimed it could force schools to switch to virtual learning because of COVID-19 outbreaks. WILL said the department does not have the power to do so.

It cited a letter from Salem School District administrators where they write Kenosha Public Health told them the department would, "intervene and require a move to virtual instruction for all of our students if we reached a point of 3% active infections.”

"The decision about when to close and what to require in terms of protective measures in schools, that's ultimately on the school board," WILL deputy counsel Luke Berg said in an interview, citing decisions made by the state Supreme Court.

WILL's letter was not any form of legal action, but warned if the department moved ahead with action to switch schools to virtual or hybrid learning because of Covid, the firm would consider its options.

"If the health department continues to issue these threats and ultimately does shut down a school, we will evaluate that when that happens and we might bring a legal action at the time," Berg said.

But Kenosha County Public Health said what was outlined in the open letter is not the case.

"What was put out to school districts was a metrics recommendation to review protocols and processes if a school reaches a 3 percent positive COVID-19 case rate. These are advisory recommendations from public health to the school districts," Kenosha County health officer Dr. Jen Freiheit said in a statement. "We are more than willing, and have in the past met with schools to discuss plans and procedures and recommend best practices in the event of a large outbreak, but it is ultimately up to the school districts to decide whether to transition to virtual or hybrid learning."

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