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Private schools file lawsuit over Wisconsin's snow day policies

Posted at 3:03 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 22:04:56-04

MILWAUKEE -- A Wisconsin group that advocates for private choice schools has announced they are suing Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction for "illegal treatment of private schools in Wisconsin's choice program."

According to the press release from the conservative legal firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty or WILL, Wisconsin's DPI is denying private schools the opportunity to fully utilize online, virtual learning as part of classroom instruction.

The issue stems from snow days and winter weather that has caused choice schools to close and then rush to make up for the canceled class time. Right now, DPI allows public schools to count online learning hours towards the hourly pupil instruction requirements, but won't for private schools in the choice program.

WILL says the issue affects 40,000 students in 250 private schools.

Many Wisconsin public schools have embraced online learning. With the use of their phones, labtops or tablets, students can participate in activities from their own home.

The School Choice Wisconsin Action lawsuit filed by WILL is based off the state law that requires all public and private schools in the choice programs to provide specific hours of direct pupil instruction.

DPI has said that public schools can count “virtual instruction” towards the “direct pupil instruction” requirements, but private choice schools cannot.

DPI shared the following statement with TODAY'S TMJ4:

"When it comes to crediting hours of virtual instruction provided to make up time lost due to weather, the DPI only has legal authority to credit these hours for public schools. This authority comes from Wisconsin Administrative Code section PI 8.01(2)(f), which is explicitly limited to public schools. There is no law or rule giving us the same authority for Choice schools, so absent a change in law, the DPI may only credit virtual instruction for public schools."

Libby Sobic, the WILL lawyer representing the case also made the following statement to TODAY'S TMJ4:

"There is no state law that gives DPI the authority to deny choice schools the ability to credit hours of virtual instruction. If DPI wishes to prevent choice schools from utilizing virtual instruction, they have to write a regulation and go through the rule-making process which includes legislative oversight. They didn't do that.”

You can read the full lawsuit here.