PORTLAND — Acknowledging that three Christian schools in Oregon could be irreparably harmed by Gov. Kate Brown’s current limitations on all schools, with one or more of the three schools perhaps even closing permanently, a federal judge here nevertheless rejected an emergency motion to let them reopen classrooms this fall.
As reported by The Oregonian, U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman ruled after two hours of testimony Aug. 20 against the request made in a joint lawsuit by two K-12 schools — Horizon Christian near Hood River and Life Christian in Aloha — and the K-8 McMinnville Christian Academy.
Mosman noted that the state was not treating the private Christian schools any differently than public schools regarding the restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said public health concerns about widening the pandemic outweigh the three schools’ interests.
Brown on June 24 issued an executive order that on-site instruction may take place in public and private K-12 schools only if it meets guidance issued by the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education. A later order clarified schools can have on-site teaching if stringent standards for a low number of COVID-19 test results are met in each school’s county.
Representing the three schools, Portland attorney John Kaempf said online instruction is not sufficient because schools are called to offer communal, in-person, faith-based education. He said the schools need to offer in-person programs, as universities and daycare centers can.
But state attorney Marc Abrams countered that temporary limitations are necessary to avoid potential loss of life should the schools become “super spreader sites.”
Mosman said he recognized the positive role of religious education, and understood why the schools would be frustrated over not being allowed to reopen classrooms when, for example, a wide range of facilities such as laundromats, bars, marijuana dispensaries and taverns are allowed to open to the public. But he said the schools really can’t be compared to such other public settings.