County, State Drop Efforts to Fine Immanuel Schools Over COVID Violations
Fresno County, the state of California, and Immanuel Schools have reached a tentative agreement that allows Immanuel to provide in-person instruction for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The county and state also are withdrawing requests that Immanuel Schools be fined for violating a September court order requiring the schools to close to in-person teaching and to pay for county and state legal costs.
The tentative agreement notes that the decision of whether to find Immanuel Schools in contempt of court for failing to adhere to the preliminary injunction ordering the schools’ closure is up to Judge D. Tyler Tharpe.
Both sides also agree to drop claims and counterclaims that were filed after Immanuel Schools opened its campuses in August in defiance of county and state health orders to keep schools closed in counties with high rates of coronavirus infections.
Fresno County spokesman Jordan Scott said he was trying to determine Monday morning what the county has paid thus far in legal fees in connection with the case.
The two sides are due in Fresno County Superior Court at 9 a.m. Tuesday when the proposed agreement — including the school’s K-12 reopening plan, which has been approved by the Fresno County Public Health Department — will be reviewed by Tharpe.
Infections Could Spark Closures
According to the reopening plan, Immanuel Schools agrees to stop in-person instruction and resume distance learning when there are multiple coronavirus cases in multiple classrooms or when at least 5% of students, teachers, and staff test positive for the virus within a 14-day period.
Under the agreement, the court retains jurisdiction for one year to enforce the settlement.
The settlement notes that Fresno County moved from the most restrictive tier in the state of California’s reopening plan to the next level in late September and maintained that status for two weeks. Under the state’s plan to gradually reopen businesses, schools, and other entities, when counties are in the color-coded red tier for two weeks or longer, all schools may reopen for instruction so long as they are prepared to take suitable measures for health and safety.
In the most restrictive tier, color-coded purple, only students in kindergarten through sixth grade can return to campus for classes, and only after the school or district has obtained a state-approved waiver that has been reviewed and approved by the county health department.
Immanuel Defied Health Orders
After Immanuel reopened to in-person classes on Aug. 13, the county’s interim public health officer issued an order the same day directing the schools to close. When in-person instruction continued, the county sought a preliminary restraining order that was denied on Aug. 25 by Tharpe.
Three weeks later, the court granted the county’s request for a preliminary injunction to force the schools to close, which the schools appealed. On Sept. 30, the judge ordered a hearing on whether Immanuel Schools was in contempt of the court’s preliminary injunction and faced monetary sanctions. The schools then agreed not to provide in-person instruction from Oct. 8 through Oct. 12.
Immanuel Schools is a private, Christian K-12 district that was founded as a Bible school in 1926 by members of the Mennonite Brethren Church, according to its website.