County in Central California orders private school to shut down after bringing kids back to campus

Fresno County public health officials said they'll give the school a chance to comply with the state order, even though they've already warned administrators not to open.

Friday, August 14, 2020
Fresno County orders Immanuel Schools to shut down after it brings kids back to campus
Fresno County issued a health officer order to shut down Immanuel Schools in Reedley.

REEDLEY, Calif. -- Officials in a Central California county issued a health officer order to shut down a private school after administrators chose to bring kids on campus Thursday for the first day of school, violating state emergency orders in the process.

The first day of classes at Immanuel Schools in Reedley looked a lot like every prior back-to-school day.

But this day came in the middle of a pandemic - and a few kids were wearing masks.

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COVID-19 has infected more than 18,000 people in Fresno County, and because of the pandemic, no schools in this county are allowed to open for in-person instruction.

So some of Immanuel's neighbors were not thrilled to see the children back at school.

"This is not just going to affect these particular families," Jessica Bergen said. "They live in our community. They go home. They visit their grandparents. They go to the grocery store. And those are all places other people are going to be and they could potentially spread it further."

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Fresno County public health officials said they'll give Immanuel a chance to comply with the state order, even though they already warned administrators not to open.

However, if the school refuses to return to remote learning, the county intends to get a court order to shut it down.

Right now, that's the direction it appears to be heading.

Administrators didn't return calls Thursday, but they posted a statement on Facebook.

It said, in part, "As we believe these orders are unconstitutional, we are working with legal counsel and other Christ-centered and private schools to file a lawsuit to address these orders."

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled coronavirus emergency orders are legal, even when they restrict religious activity.

"The 10th Amendment to the Constitution said that all powers not given to the federal Government go to the state government and the state has every right to pass laws and rules dealing with this particular health and safety issue," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi.

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He says public health will typically take precedence over individual rights in times of emergency - a legal standard that seemed like common sense to Jessica Bergen.

"I don't understand why the community at large is not taking this more seriously and is not more concerned for the health of its members," she said.

Reedley police watched back-to-school traffic Thursday and the city plans to step up its coronavirus informational campaign. But otherwise, they're trying to stay out of the dispute.

Public health Director Dave Pomaville said Immanuel is the only school they're having to fight to keep kids off campus.