California school in violation of health order ordered to close

FILE ART (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

A private school in California was ordered to close Thursday after it reopened classrooms in violation of a state health order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Fresno County issued a health order against Immanuel Schools in Reedley, ordering it to close its classrooms until the county is removed from a state monitoring list for two weeks. Violating the order could lead to fines of up to $1,000 per violation per day.

The order requests the county sheriff and local police chiefs to enforce the order.

News reports showed students gathered in groups at the school for the first day of the new school year without practicing social distancing or wearing masks.

The private Christian school, located in the Central Valley, has about 600 students in classes from kindergarten through high school. All are taught on a single campus.

“Immanuel Schools and all Fresno County Schools have an obligation to protect the health and safety of all students and faculty,” David Pomaville, the county’s public health director, said in a statement. “We will continue to work with our schools to provide guidance and help ensure that any re-opening is done in accordance with best practices.”

The order also is designed to “address the strain upon the health care system” from COVID-19, the statement said.

Messages seeking comment from the school after hours Thursday weren’t immediately returned.

However, the school’s Board of Trustees and Superintendent Ryan Wood issued a statement that said they believe “our mission is best achieved through in-person education.”

“Preventing schools from teaching students on campus is detrimental to students’ academic, physical, emotional, and spiritual development, while also imposing a burden to working families,” the statement said, adding that the school intends to sue over health orders barring classroom instruction.

Fresno is one of nearly 40 counties that are on a state monitoring list because of rising COVID-19 infection rates. The county was added to the list on June 8. On Thursday, it reported nearly 350 new cases, for a total of nearly 18,700, with 191 deaths.

Schools within those counties cannot reopen for classes or seek waivers to reopen until certain statistics show infection rates are slowing. Most school districts have started or will start their new academic years with online instruction.