Jefferson County Public Health takes schools to court over masking requirement

Coronavirus

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Jefferson County Public Health’s COVID order requires all students age 2 and up to wear a mask.

JCPH said some schools were not following the requirement and then took them to court over it. Three private, Christian schools in Jefferson County were being sued by the health department.

The department issued a statement saying it decided to file the lawsuit to ensure compliance from the schools. Faith Christian Academy, Augustine Classical Academy and Beth Eden Baptist School were the three schools mentioned in the suit.

Leaders from Augustine Classical told FOX31 the health department received complaints about public schools not following the order, but they want to know why three smaller schools are the only ones named in the suit.

A statement on behalf of the interim director read:

Augustine Classical Academy (ACA) was surprised by this complaint based on the fact that JCPH inspectors were escorted into the facility to investigate complaints and those inspectors clearly indicated that ACA was found to be in compliance with the public health order, as mentioned in the complaint. Inspectors verbally confirmed our compliance. JCPH’s complaint indicates a delay in allowing inspectors into the campus, which is based on standard protocol as a locked campus. Therefore, a slight delay while administrators determine the visitor’s identity and safety is reasonable to keep our students safe.Also, ACA finds it notable that despite the fact that JCPH is receiving complaints about public schools being noncompliant, the complaint names three small, religious schools. We are curious about why JCPH targeted small religious schools in what appears to be an effort to intimidate, if not harass, our schools for being non-compliant with the public health order when all three schools have either clearly indicated their voluntary compliance and/or been investigated and found to be in compliance by JCPH inspectors.ACA echoes the sentiments shared by Faith Christian Academy that this litigation is unfortunate for our community, especially during already stressful times for families. We share JCPH’s concern about Covid and are pleased to report that since opening for in-person learning in August 2020–13 months ago–we have had zero Covid outbreaks, which indicates that ACA is not now nor has ever been a public-health threat. We wholeheartedly share the goals of prioritizing in-person learning and protecting the well-being of students and recognize that JCPH has a legitimate role in helping the public navigate health issues. It is unfortunate that JCPH has chosen to depart from their properly appointed role and are instead using tax dollars to launch unfounded and baseless lawsuits against religious organizations who are committed to helping people and families.

Justin F. Riley, Augustine Classical Academy Interim Operations Director

Late Wednesday afternoon, Augustine was dismissed from the suit after coming to an agreement with the health department on compliance visits. Beth Eden Baptist was cleared as well. Jeffco Public Health said in a statement:

JCPH is pleased that we have been able to resolve our legal action with two of the three involved schools in our county – Beth Eden Baptist Church and Augustine Classical Academy. Both schools have agreed to allow our public health inspectors to have full access to conduct compliance inspections, as requested by JCPH in the lawsuit. Litigation is still in progress with Faith Christian Academy. This is an important step toward protecting the schoolchildren of Jefferson County, and JCPH will continue to take all necessary measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in our community.

Court proceedings are set to resume Thursday.

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