Lead the children by your example
At St. Ambrose Academy, the most effective way we teach is by our example of service, faith, and fortitude. That’s why we are fighting for the right of Dane County children to receive the faith-based education their parents desire for them. Thanks to the generous contributions of hundreds of benefactors, big and small, we have secured funding to meet this round of legal expenses, but we still invite you to give to the St. Ambrose Academy mission of Catholic classical education. As our numbers swell, we proclaim ever more boldly that religious liberty is the birthright of every American. Your contribution, as part of a team including parents, staff, and supporters, will help form this generation of children as good citizens and faithful followers of Christ. (See 'Updates' tab for a summary of how this cause began on 8/22/20.)
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. Eccles. 4:9
God is Good! When we started this journey just a few days ago, we could not have predicted how many friends would unite in this effort to free area families to return to school, if they so choose. How blessed we have been by your solidarity throughout our county, our state, our great nation, and even a boost from the Land Down Under!
Surpassing our initial fundraising goals through your generosity has given us confidence to begin this legal challenge. Our strength in numbers is grounded in our communion with God, which is why students need the opportunity to grow in a community that welcomes and witnesses His truth and presence.
Brave families across Dane County have been heartened all summer by authoritative recommendations on the importance of returning our children to schools, including the CDC and the AAP, among others. It greatly helps our effort to be able to demonstrate broad support, which is why we are now assembling parent letters, affidavits from school officials, faculty endorsements, and a record of this phenomenal donor response. As of now, seven other diocesan parish schools will join us as plaintiffs!
We cannot overstate how powerful the sign of a rallying community will be to this effort, and we joyfully welcome every benefactor to this great cause. We know that benefactors want their gifts to go to the cause, and once we have triumphed in our goal of reopening Dane County schools, whatever is leftover will go to our tuition assistance program, which provides funds for over half our students. Thank you for your teamwork and goodness! Keep checking back on our progress!
WOW. Look at that total. We are stunned and in awe at how God has moved so many hearts to support this critical cause. Each and every one of you has been an ENORMOUS BLESSING to this effort to keep religious schools open in Dane County for our children. Your financial, spiritual, and moral support have been an incredible witness to the strength of faith in each other and in God. We are AMAZED at what we’ve been able to accomplish together!
Because of your generosity, we are now able to confidently proceed with the first step in taking legal action. You have empowered us to take a leap of faith we never could have imagined. In truth, we don’t know how or where this will end. Further donations will only bolster our resolve and strengthen our hands for whatever future action may be required. We will keep you updated with the latest developments. Please keep Dane County students in your prayers, and pray that this legal effort might free them to return to school.
WE MET OUR INITIAL GOAL of $60,000 WITHIN 19 HOURS!
We are profoundly grateful and overwhelmed by the generosity of our donors who have joined us in this effort to keep religious schools open in Dane County.
We have raised our next goal to $80,000, given the uncertainty surrounding the duration and complexity of possible legal proceedings.
Thank you for your spiritual and financial support of our children’s right to religious education.
We also beg your prayers. May Our Lady of Good Help, who appeared to Adele Brise in Champion, Wisconsin with the words, "Go into the wilderness, gather the children, and teach them what they need to know for salvation," intercede for us mightily.
A group of plaintiffs including parents and St. Ambrose Academy are taking legal action to contest Public Health Madison & Dane County Emergency Order #9. The Order prohibits county schools from offering in-person religious education to students in grades 3-12, both now and in the indeterminate future. In-person learning is important to all children, but especially to low-income families, many of whom are served by religious schools.
The emergency order, the ninth of its kind, was issued at 5:18 p.m. on Friday, August 21, only days before St. Ambrose Academy was scheduled to reopen and a mere sixty hours before other religious schools were prepared to begin instruction. In issuing the Order, the County failed to take into account the extensive and comprehensive measures religious schools had put in place to ensure a safe reopening.
St. Ambrose Academy, like many other religious schools in the county, is spending countless hours and many thousands of dollars putting into place the safety precautions mandated in Emergency Order #8 that was issued on July 7 (which was followed by a host of additional public health documents at the county and state level). St. Ambrose, for example, has at great expense nearly doubled its facility space to ensure Public Health Madison & Dane County’s social distancing guidelines can be met.
Despite the good faith efforts many religious schools have made in recent months to adhere to Dane County’s health guidelines to ensure the safe return of students and staff, by issuing Emergency Order #9, Dane County has dealt county religious schools a crushing blow by holding them to far higher standards than other businesses.
Emergency Order #9 directly impinges on families’ rights to provide a religious education for their children in accord with the dictates of their consciences. St. Ambrose is working with expert legal counsel to appeal for swift relief from this Order. The Academy is incurring significant legal expenses. Legal challenges of this nature are costly, and the Academy anticipates legal fees of $60,000 or more if it is necessary to carry our appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. If we are successful, all religious schools will benefit, so we beg all religious schools, families, and those who care about the freedom to educate our children as we see fit to help fund the expense.
Join us to ensure that parents may exercise their right to obtain religious education for their children in Dane County with in-person instruction, so necessary to a child’s development.
Please help St. Ambrose Academy cover the legal expenses of this challenge.
Where will the unused funds go?
Any unused funds will go to tuition assistance for students to be administered by St. Ambrose Academy.
What is the mission of St. Ambrose Academy?
St. Ambrose Academy is an accredited Catholic school whose mission is to assist parents in the formation of their children by providing a classical education rooted in the Catholic faith. Aware that all truth has its origin and end in the person of Jesus Christ, our students study Catholic theology and college preparatory subjects through the teachings of the Magisterium and the primary works of civilization’s greatest thinkers. Offered regular access to the Sacraments and mentored by teachers who foster a deep love of Jesus Christ, students see and are led to imitate the virtues which joyfully compel a life lived in knowledge, love, and service of Christ and His Church.
What does the Catechism say about education?
“As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.” - Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2229
1. Why are religious schools prevented from opening as scheduled this fall?
On Friday August 21, Public Health Madison & Dane County issued Emergency Order # 9 prohibiting in-person education for grades 3-12.
2. Why can’t Catholic schools just do online learning until the coronavirus risk has passed?
The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education reminds us that “The extent to which the Christian message is transmitted through education depends to a very great extent on the teachers. The integration of culture and faith is mediated by the other integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher.”
The faith is not shared through a computer monitor, but by the engagement between students and believers in Jesus Christ. Virtual instruction is a stopgap measure but is no substitute for Catholic education. The school closure order does not have any fixed length. Schools could be closed for months or even the whole year. Six months or a year is a long time in a child’s life, during this important time of maturation they cannot be deprived of the benefits of a religious education without the risk of serious consequences.
3. Many public schools have chosen to close, why should religious schools be allowed to open?
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council teach us that every baptized Christian has a right to a Catholic education. Moreover, the Council Fathers proclaim “the right of the Church freely to establish and to conduct schools of every type and level. And the council calls to mind that the exercise of a right of this kind contributes in the highest degree to the protection of freedom of conscience, the rights of parents, as well as to the betterment of culture itself.”
We recognize legitimate health and safety regulations, but the arbitrary and open-ended closure of Catholic schools not only endangers the survival of those schools but puts at risk the religious formation of youth.
4. Are children unnecessarily endangered by in-person education?
The US Center for Disease Control writes that “The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms…. Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults.” Many states are permitting their schools to open, including Minnesota, New York, and California. Even the State of Wisconsin has not closed schools, recognizing that with proper cautionary measures in-person teaching can be carried out safely.
5. On what grounds is the order to close schools being challenged?
The Constitution of the State of Wisconsin offers significant protections for religious liberty. Governments need to use minimally invasive means to achieve their legitimate governmental purposes, such as protecting public health. Because parents have a constitutionally protected right to pass on their faith to their children through religious schools, the County and City cannot impose restrictions not faced by other commercial organizations. A state statutory claim will also be raised, which would apply to both religious and secular schools.
6. How will the order be challenged?
We are engaging an experienced appellate attorney who will present the legal argument to City and County officials, urging them to reconsider the school closure order. If necessary, a suit will be filed asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to consider the measure on an expedited basis.
7. If successful will all religious schools be allowed to open?
It is impossible to know how the Court will rule, but the constitutional arguments would apply to religious schools of any denomination, not just Catholic ones. In addition, the statutory arguments will apply to all schools including non-religious ones.
8. Lawyers are expensive, how will the legal action be funded?
St. Ambrose Academy has established a crowdfunding site to raise the funds needed to cover the legal fees. Donors from across the country and even around the world have been extremely generous. Please help out if you can at https://www.givesendgo.com/openschool. Any funds not required for legal fees will go to tuition assistance for students to be administered by St. Ambrose Academy.
9. How long will it take to get an answer from the Supreme Court?
It is not possible to determine. However, if the Court takes an interest it has the capacity to reach a decision in a matter of days.
10. Does the Diocese of Madison support St. Ambrose Academy’s legal efforts?
Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Michael Lancaster wrote on Aug. 23, 2020, in a letter to parochial school principals, “If you have individual families or parents who want to do something to support the effort, please direct them to https://www.givesendgo.com/openschool. If they have already been contacted, please assure them that this is legitimate…”.
11. Will the Catholic Diocese of Madison also be taking legal action?
No. Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Michael Lancaster wrote on Aug. 23, 2020 that the Diocese will not be filing a separate legal action.
12. Can religious schools safely offer in-person instruction?
Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) has ordered specific preparations that all Dane County businesses must make to continue in operation (Order #8 https://publichealthmdc.com/documents/2020-07-07_Order_8.pdf).
In addition, PHMDC has published a detailed “K-12 School Requirements During Covid-19”. https://publichealthmdc.com/documents/School_Requirements.pdf.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has provided “Guidlines for the Prevention, Investigation, and Control of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Schools” https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p02757.pdf. Each school is different but St. Ambrose Academy has a detailed and extensive reopening plan taking into account this guidance that implements hygiene measures and protective measures and includes specific steps to take should a student or staff member come down with the virus.
13. How will St. Ambrose Academy socially distance students?
St. Ambrose Academy is leasing additional classroom space on Old Sauk Road nearly doubling our available classroom space and reducing the number of students who will assemble in classroom areas. Junior High will be at the Old Sauk Road site and Senior High students will be at the Evergreen Drive site.
14. What does the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) have to say on the importance of reopening schools?
“As families and policymakers make decisions about their children returning to school, it is important to consider the full spectrum of benefits and risks of both in-person and virtual learning options. Parents are understandably concerned about the safety of their children at school in the wake of COVID-19. The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms…. Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities. These students are far less likely to have access to private instruction and care and far more likely to rely on key school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs to meet basic developmental needs.”