Colorado threatens to shut down private Christian school if it doesn’t implement intrusive COVID mitigation measures

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The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (LCDHE) has threatened to close Resurrection Christian School (RCS), a private school in Colorado, for failing to enforce county-mandated COVID mitigation measures such as universal masking for the entire school. Last week, RCS announced that it would comply but will continue to pursue legal remedies to restore the primary decision-making about healthcare and schooling options back to parents and the school.

Quick Facts

In announcing the decision to comply, RCS Superintendent Jerry Eshleman explained to parents, “What we are trying to do is strike a balance between absolutely aggressively pursuing this from a legal standpoint, while at the same time providing opportunities for your children to make the very best of their academic and educational situation here at RCS.”

As schools return to in-person instruction, the spread of illnesses, including COVID, is inevitable. Schools differ on what steps to take to prevent the spread of the disease that forced classes online last year. RCS has prioritized the fundamental right of parents to make the best decision for their children regarding COVID mitigation. The LCDHE, however, is refusing to permit such an approach and instead has used the threat of legal action and the serious threat of closure to force RCS to implement its recommendations. As noted earlier, the school has agreed to implement these measures while the legal process advances.

The recommended measures included:

The LCDHE also ordered the school to allow its personnel onto the premises. RCS has allegedly not been allowing LCDHE to investigate. If the school does not comply, it would be forced to close. The order noted,

“LCDHE is concerned about the health of the students, staff, and visitors of RCS and the failure thus far to effectively implement any control measures. It has resulted in additional cases and unnecessary risk to those in the school. Maintaining in-person learning is the primary goal, but this cannot be possible if the outbreak continues and cases increase.”

Eshleman originally told parents, “RCS proudly supports its parents’ rights to make the decisions you feel (are) best for your children. We are not a place of public accommodation. We are a private, Christian school and operate outside of the public-school model and domain.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that California Gov. Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority by barring in-person learning at private schools during the pandemic (although the court did not address this issue in the context of public schools). Judge Daniel Collins wrote,

“The Supreme Court has long held that ‘the right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause,’ and that right includes ‘the right of parents to be free from state interference with their choice of the educational forum itself.’”

What impact that case ruling will have on RCS’ situation remains to be seen, but it shows that the courts respect a parent’s right to make decisions about their child’s education and welfare and that private schools and public schools are not identical. The LCDHE refers to Colorado statutes to assert its authority over the school, while the school claims that as a private school the government has no authority to make such demands.

This case is worth noting, and being concerned about, because it highlights the tension at the heart of so many of the COVID-related governmental mandates.  When it comes to the health and education of children, who (generally) is best positioned to make those decisions? A Biblical worldview answers that question clearly: It’s the parents. Yes, the government does have a role to play in promoting and protecting public health, but it is never an unlimited or unconstrainted role.

In an article on Christianity Today, Superintendent Eshleman made a convincing case for the school’s originally proposed and attempted approach:

“The response from our parents has been absolutely, overwhelmingly positive. But among the folks who are not happy about it, they cite examples from the Bible about obeying those in authority over you, the whole Romans 13 thing. While I respect that, I think it’s a misapplication of the context that we’re dealing with here.

At what point will the government, will the state so to speak, ask things of you that you’re going to have a problem with? To a handful of parents that I’ve responded to who have cited that to say basically, ‘You’re not being a good Christian, you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself, you’re not doing Romans 13,’ I say, ‘Ok, then help me understand Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. That’s not obeying the authorities over them.’

To me, philosophically, when God’s law and man’s laws run parallel to one another, that’s fine … but this is not that. This is the state coming in between me and my child, telling me the medical advice that I have to do for my child. The larger issue in Deuteronomy 6, to me, it’s talking about: Parents, it’s your J-O-B to take care of that child. God gave you that child to raise. Not the school. Definitely not the state.”

Readers, keep an eye on this case. It’s an excellent example of a local Christian school that took COVID seriously and tried to implement parental-focused and tailored mitigation measures to contain COVID spread while maximizing the in-person learning experience. Yet the local health department insisted on forcing it into a “one-size-fits-all” mandate under the coercive threat of closing the school.

How will this play out in court? Only time will tell.