An Oregon dance studio that last week drew a 119-count complaint from the joint Madison and Dane County public health department for alleged COVID-19 health order violations is suing the department, joining a lawsuit that challenges Dane County’s indoor gathering limits.
A Leap Above Dance, which faces nearly $24,000 in fines for alleged violations of an emergency order issued by Public Health Madison and Dane County, on Tuesday became a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last month on behalf of two local parents who have children involved in sports teams.
The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 20 by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, challenges the health department’s authority to issue emergency orders to curb the spread of COVID-19 without approval from the Dane County Board. It also questions limits placed on sports in the latest emergency order, No. 12, issued on Jan. 12.
The lawsuit was originally filed directly with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which in December decided 4-3 against taking the case and told plaintiffs to start in circuit court.
The complaint filed by the health department against the dance studio alleges that 119 people took part in a production of the Nutcracker on Dec. 13, a violation of Emergency Order No. 10, issued on Nov. 17. It prohibited in-person school for all but students in kindergarten through second grade and students with disabilities. It also banned mass gatherings of any size, defining a mass gathering as “a planned event with a large number of individuals in attendance, such as a concert, festival, meeting, training, conference, performance, show or sporting event.”
The lawsuit against Public Health, amended Tuesday to add A Leap Above Dance, states, however, that order No. 10 contained a separate exception to the indoor gathering ban for “child care and youth settings,” including “unregulated youth programs.”
The lawsuit states the website of the state Department of Children and Families lists various types of child care programs that do not require a license, and the lawsuit likens them to “unregulated youth programs.” It specifically cites “group lessons to develop a talent or skill such as dance or music” from the DCF website.
In that context, the lawsuit states, A Leap Above Dance is an “unregulated youth program” that falls within the exception in the county’s emergency order.
Last week, A Leap Above Dance’s owner, Natalie Nemeckay, told the Wisconsin State Journal she never had more than 10 people in her studio at a time during the production, which was being video-recorded, and said the health department had previously repeatedly failed to give her accurate guidance about what she was allowed to do at the studio.
Nemeckay said dancers and others were brought into the studio in groups of no more than 10. Performers also wore masks, seen in photos of the performance posted on the studio’s Facebook page.
A motion hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled to be heard by Circuit Judge Jacob Frost on March 3.