Education · Fresno · Highlight

Reedley-based Immanuel Schools reopens campuses, squares off with health officials

Immanuel Schools in Reedley defied orders from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Fresno County Department of Public Health and opened its doors Thursday for in-person instruction. 

Since Fresno County is currently on the state’s coronavirus watch list, all districts in the county are required to function in a fully online capacity. 

The state will allow Fresno County school districts to reopen once the county has been off the state watch list for 14 consecutive days. 

Though Immanuel Schools are privately run, the state and county health orders still apply. 

Halfway through the first school day at Immanuel, Fresno County’s Public Health Department issued an order Thursday directing all Immanuel Schools to close until the county has been off of the state’s watch list for two weeks. 

“Immanuel Schools and all Fresno County schools have an obligation to protect the health and safety of all students and faculty,” said department director David Pomaville in a statement. “We will continue to work with our schools to provide guidance and help ensure that any reopening 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.” 

The health department said if Immanuel Schools violates the order, the county may fine and penalize the district and possibly force a closure. 

“We are in regular communication with all schools, so they understand this situation and we are monitoring trends together,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, county Interim Health Officer, in a statement. 

“The community should understand that every decision they make to stay safe is a step in the right direction to helping schools reopen. 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.” 

However, before the public health office issued its order singling out Immanuel Schools, the board of trustees and Superintendent Ryan Wood released a statement, saying the orders to close the campuses are unconstitutional and the district is working to take legal action to address the orders. 

The statements reads as follows: 

“Immanuel Schools’ mission is to equip students to serve God and neighbor through mind, body and soul based on a Christ-centered foundation. In partnership with our parents, we believe as a Christian school, our mission is best achieved through in-person education. We feel strongly that parents are ultimately responsible for their child’s schooling choice and if they desire an on-campus education, why should they be denied that right? For our families who have medical needs or are not yet comfortable with being on campus, we will continue our excellent Schooling from Home learning option.

“For the majority of students, it is clear that an online education is not a substitute for an in-person, Christ-centered, relationally based classroom setting. While the Public Health Departments attempt to “protect” us from COVID-19, the CDC and medical experts attest that they are creating new public health problems for our children by not allowing them on campus for learning. 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.

“Over the last several weeks, Immanuel Schools has prayerfully sought counsel from educational and medical experts, our legal advisors, and members of our Immanuel community. Based on their counsel and our belief that this is what is best for students, we have opened for on-campus instruction on Thursday, August 13th. Additionally, as we believe these orders are unconstitutional we are working with legal counsel and other Christ-centered and private schools to file a lawsuit to address these orders.” 

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.