Education · Fresno · Highlight

Fresno Co. files injunction to shut down Immanuel Schools

In response to Reedley’s Immanuel Schools reopening for in-person instruction last week in defiance of the state and county orders, Fresno County followed through Thursday with its threat to file an injunction to shut the campuses down. 

After Immanuel Schools reopened last week, district superintendent Ryan Wood issued a statement saying the schools would remain open and would seek legal action against the county and state, calling the orders to prohibit in-person instruction unconstitutional. 

Following Wood’s statement, the Fresno County Department of Public Health issued a health officer order directing the district to shut down. The order, signed by interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra, threatened a $1,000 fine for every day the district remained open. 

Now, in addition to the fines, Immanuel Schools is facing an injunction to close its doors. 

“The only effective remedy to the current health threat caused by the ongoing in-person operations at Immanuel Schools is an injunction ordering Immanuel Schools to immediately cease all operations in violation of state and local health orders,” the lawsuit reads. 

Fresno County argues that Immanuel Schools is causing and will continue to cause “great and irreparable injury to the general public” by remaining open, including an increase in the number of hospitalizations and deaths. 

As of numbers reported by the state Thursday, Fresno County has 246 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, which is down from a peak of 313 on July 30. Of those hospitalized patients, 60 of them are in the ICU, down from a peak of 67 on July 29. 

In a county media briefing on Friday, Vohra said that while the number of hospitalizations are decreasing, the overall numbers still remain very high and the ICU beds are critically impacted.  

“In spite of the state orders or the county health order, Immanuel Schools continues to operate in-person instruction and other activities involving hundreds of students,” the lawsuit reads. “These operations include indoor settings and procedures that do not provide for appropriate masking of persons or social distancing. These conditions present an immediate and serious threat to the health and safety of the students, parents, teachers and staff at Immanuel Schools.” 

The county stressed that COVID-19 spreads by person-to-person contact and also threw a jab at churches holding indoor services. 

“It is essential to control the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed,” the lawsuit reads. “Nationwide, a number of outbreaks of COVID-19 have stemmed from indoor worship services resulting in hospitalizations and deaths.” 

In Friday’s briefing, County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau said the hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. 

“We certainly hope that Immanuel Schools comes to their senses and shuts their school down,” Rousseau. “The reality is that there’s businesses, schools, churches all sacrificing right now to abide by this state and local order so that we can get off the watch list and hopefully get back to normal as quickly as possible, and we can’t allow rogue schools, like Immanuel unfortunately, to open up and jeopardize what we’re doing as a community.”

On Saturday, Immanuel Schools established its own legal defense fund to pay attorney’s fees to contest the injunction.

Read the injunction

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.