Fresno County Judge Orders Private Christian School To Stop In-School Learning

On Tuesday, Fresno County Superior Court Judge D. Tyler Tharpe ordered that a private Christian school in Reedley is to stop all in-school instruction due to going against state and local health orders.

Immanuel Schools ordered to stop in-person learning

Immanuel Schools, a K-12 private Christian school with around 600 students has had in-school classes since reopening last month, the only school in Fresno or Tulare County that opened with such classes.

Fresno County health officials have tried for weeks to stop the school from continuing in-school instruction due to concerns over COVID-19 as well as current ordinances forbidding such practices until COVID-19 rates fall to an acceptable level. The county then sued last month after the school refused, only for Judge Tharpe to allow the school to remain open by denying a temporary injunction request on August 25th. Judge Tharpe wanted to hear both sides of the argument before making a decision

In subsequent hearings, Fresno County health officials noted that the Immanuel Schools were going against state and county orders to help curtail COVID-19. They argued that by the school remaining open, students, parents, teachers, and other employees were in danger of contracting and spreading the virus.

“While children themselves may not pose that big of an infection risk, you still have large groups of adults interacting on a daily basis,” Danica Murphy, an ICU nurse who treated several teachers with COVID-19 in April and May, explained to the Globe. “Teachers, staff, and parents coming by are a danger, as a lot of interactions per day multiplies the viruses chances.”

“This is why the law is in place. It’s a precaution. With COVID-19 levels the way they are, it’s selfish for parents to want their kids to go back to school in classrooms as it’s a giant risk. I’ve treated enough teachers this year. I don’t want a whole wave of them.”

Fresno County health officials celebrate, School vows to fight back against ruling

The school fought back with earlier this month by saying they had achieved herd immunity, as testing had been done by a pathologist confirming it. The school also argued that parents should decide if students should return to school in class rather than remotely and that the state and local ordinances went against the state constitution mandating the right for an on-campus education.

Only days before Judge Tharpe’s ruling, the California Supreme Court announced that it had denied a request by several private schools, including Immanuel, to reopen and get rid of the state distance-learning mandate. The decision made the Fresno County case the sole way that the school could remain open or switch to  distance learning.

But on Tuesday the Judge ruled against the school.

“Residents are under the threat of irreparable harm should defendants be allowed to conduct in-person classroom instruction while the County and its residents are in the throes of the COVID-l9 pandemic,” said Judge Tharpe in his Tuesday ruling. “They are to immediately cease and desist from conducting, participating in or attending in-person class instruction.”

While Fresno County officials approved of the decision, ending an almost two month battle with the school, school officials hinted that it was not yet over and that the Board of Trustees would be mulling over their next steps to overturn the ruling.

“While today’s decision is a setback, we know that God is still at work in our situation and we will continue to seek His Will,” stated Immanuel Schools superintendent Ryan Wood after the decision. “We still believe strongly that we have the constitutional right to provide the on-campus education that all students need and deserve while also leaving that decision up to our families.”

The school is expected to announce what they will do next in the coming days. As of Wednesday, Fresno County remains in the “widespread” purple tier of reopening, a level in which in-person schooling is not allowed unless a special waiver is granted.

Evan Symon
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