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The state of California is asking a Fresno County judge to punish Immanuel Schools in defiance of an order to close.

Today, Judge D. Tyler Tharpe set a hearing on October 9th to hear the state’s request on contempt of court and possible monetary sanctions.

Despite state and county health orders to the contrary, Immanuel — a K-12 school in Reedley — opened anyway in August. Attorneys for the school said that not only did it have a constitutional right to open, COVID-19 testing performed at the school showed herd immunity which would reduce the likelihood of transmission.

The county sought legal action to force Immanuel’s closure. Despite losing on the first round, on September 15, Tharpe granted the county’s request for a preliminary injunction to shut Immanuel. The state joined the county’s request. The injunction became official on September 17.

The school has remained open, according to court paperwork filed by the office of state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Schools Might Be Able to Reopen Anyway

On Monday, the state health department moved Fresno County from its most severe purple COVID-19 monitoring tier to red. If the county maintains or improves on certain metrics, all area schools would be allowed to reopen for in-person instruction by October 13.

As per state guidelines, Immanuel filed a waiver on September 18 to open its schools earlier. But, the county found problems granting such a request.

According to court filings, the county Department of Public Health “found a significant number of additional areas that were not in compliance
with State and County DPH guidelines.”

One problem was that Immanuel sought a waiver for both elementary as well as junior and senior high schools. The state waiver process only allowed for elementary.

Other problems, found in court documents, include symptom screenings inconsistent with state and local guidelines; the school’s plan to allow for optional mask wearing; and social distancing during classroom instruction, lunch period or busing.

Immanuel remained open, according to the county, as recently as September 25.

Immanuel Says Any Sanctions are Premature

It is unknown what effect the reopening of schools across the county may have on the state’s request for sanctions.

Immanuel has filed its own lawsuit against the county and state which is still in the legal process. In its briefing responding to the possible contempt charges, attorney Jennifer Bursch wrote that such a determination would be “inappropriate” until their suit could be heard.

Bursch also argued that the issue could be moot if all schools are allowed to reopen.

The state, in its reply, says Immanuel is misapplying the law to bypass a contempt hearing.

Requests for comment from the office of Attorney General Xavier Becerra were referred to the governor’s office. Neither the governor’s office nor attorneys for Immanuel commented by time of publication.

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