Education · Fresno · Highlight

Immanuel Schools beats back early Fresno Co. effort to close school

Immanuel Schools, the Reedley-based private Christian school system that defied public health orders by reopening will not be forced to shutdown, a Fresno County Judge ruled on Tuesday.

Following oral arguments, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Tyler Tharpe ruled that Fresno County’s public health team failed to demonstrate immediate danger posed by the school’s reopening and called the two sides back to court in mid-September.

Immanuel reopened its doors to in-person instruction nearly two weeks ago, with no identifiable cases of coronavirus having emerged.

At the core of the battle centered on medical insight – with Fresno County interim public health officer Dr. Rais Vohra and health director David Pomaville arguing that the current conditions in Fresno County were ripe for major spread of the disease.

The school leaned on its own expert to nail down a legal victory. The starting point turned out to be in the laboratory.

Immanuel parent leads the charge on school’s testing

Dr. Paul Atmajian, a father of students at the school and a Fresno-based pathologist and hematologist, helped lead the charge on determining just how much – if at all – coronavirus had spread among students and staff.

The idea came after his own family’s brush with the infectious disease.

Following a family funeral at the beginning of February, Atmajian’s entire family became ill.

After recovering, his children returned to school prior to the mid-March shutdown of in-person instruction at California schools.

Following months of news reports regarding coronavirus, Atmajian’s wife, Gayane, grew convinced that the family of six had contracted coronavirus.

Atmajian tapped his medical expertise as a pathologist and developed an antibody test for coronavirus and tested his family.

He found his entire family had developed the antibodies for the disease, a marker that they came into contact – and likely contracted – the ailment.

Speaking to The Sun on Tuesday, Atmajian took his findings to Immanuel Schools Superintendent Ryan Wood out of worry that his children may have spread the disease to fellow classmates.

Wood, Atmajian said, pointed to a likely outbreak beginning in January – citing a rash of student and teacher illnesses and absences.

At the beginning of August, Atmajian offered his services to the school to test students and staff

The findings: 59 percent of the sample population – 198 people – tested as having the antibodies for the disease.

By comparison, Atmajian noted a sample of tests conducted in southwest Fresno that amounted to a 5.5 percent positivity rate for coronavirus antibodies.

The results pointed to a possibility that a form of coronavirus herd immunity had emerged among the campus population of Immanuel.

In a declaration filed along with Fresno County’s complaint seeking an injunction against Immanuel, Fresno County interim public health officer Dr. Rais Vohra contested the study.

“I found this study to be lacking in data and did not appear to follow basic scientific principles,” Vohra wrote, according to court records.

Atmajian pushed back at Vohra’s attack.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 or 30 years,” Atmajian said. “I’m not going to issue 198 wrong reports.”

Atmajian added that he offered to share the samples for secondary testing to verify results. Those offers were rebuffed by Fresno County officials.

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.