REEDLEY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — The gates to Immanuel Schools in Reedley remained open Friday despite an order by Fresno County health officials to shut down after the private Christian school defied state orders and began in-person classes.
An image by a YourCentralValley.com photographer captured Friday morning showed parents dropping off children to class at the school.
Dr. Rais Vohra, the Fresno County Interim Health Officer, had ordered Immanuel Schools to close on Thursday. He said the health department received several calls from concerned parents, students, and staff about the opening.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday he was “disappointed” the school decided to stay open against the state order.
School officials call the order “unconstitutional” and said the school plans to take legal action.
Health officials said if Immanuel Schools does not follow the mandate, Immanuel Schools could face penalties, fines, or be forced to close.
“Immanuel Schools and all Fresno County Schools have an obligation to protect the health and safety of all students and faculty,” says David Pomaville, FCDPH Director. “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 that protects the health and safety of our students and community, and is done in accordance with state requirements.”
“We are in regular communication with all schools, so they understand this situation and we are all monitoring trends together,” says Dr. Rais Vohra, Interim Health Officer. “The community should understand that every decision they make to stay safe is a step in the right direction to helping reopen schools.” Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, a civic leader or just a good neighbor, we need all residents of the central valley to take the necessary steps to keep our community safe. Stay home unless you are on an essential errand, use a multilayer cloth mask when in public, wash your hands, and isolate if you feel ill.”
The California state order mandates all counties on the watch-list to use virtual instruction until case counts decrease for two weeks.
Immanuel Schools Board of Trustees and Superintendent of Schools argued students need to be back in the classroom.
“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,” said the school via a statement.
This was the first time the campus was filled since March.
Children covered the playground during lunch and recess hours. Most not social distancing or wearing masks. The tables and equipment were disinfected afterward.
At the same time, high school students hung out in the parking lot. Many more of the older students wore face coverings.
The school is private and does not fall under Reedley’s jurisdiction.
Reedley Youth Leader Edgar Baltazar talked with a couple of students about the opening.
“They were excited about the idea of going back to school but they also know that their families, their parents, were really scared because they don’t wan’t their kids to go back when there is so much uncertainty about this,” said Baltazar.
Health officials on Friday said the next steps to deal with schools refusing to close will be to obtain restraining orders against the schools from operating. They said that process will take several days.
Studies suggest that children are less likely to get COVID-19 than adults. Though, health experts have expressed concern that children could spread the virus and infect their parents or other adults who are at higher risk.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.