WEST OLIVE, Mich. — Parents of Libertas Christian School students protested outside a county board meeting Tuesday in the hopes of having the school re-opened.
Late Thursday, Oct. 22, officials with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health showed up at the school while parents and students were inside for a potluck. They plastered large yellow signs that say "QUARANTINE BUILDING CLOSURE DUE TO COVID-19" on doors and windows.
Several parents and two students spoke in front of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners Tuesday afternoon. Outside the meeting, a group of parents, students and supporters held a peaceful protest in support of having the school re-opened.
“Because of the health department, I have been locked not only out of my school but also my place of worship,” said Libertas 9th grader Allie Norman Tuesday afternoon.
“The abrupt closure of our school has been difficult for everyone connected to the Libertas community," said Elise Mason, a senior at the school.
"Teachers have not been able to access text books or teaching materials, and students have not been able to get text books and assignments. At this point we have no way to continue our education.”
The county alleges that Libertas refused to comply with masking and social distancing mandates outlined in orders issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and would not participate in contact tracing efforts after two teachers began showing symptoms of the virus.
"The order finding Libertas an imminent danger to public health is simply not true," said parent Lansen Perrin.
"They have been forthcoming in communication to parents about cases and exposure and they have continued to love and teach my children."
Ian Northon, an attorney for Libertas, told FOX 17 last week the situation began when the school was issued an initial cease-and-desist order on Oct. 15. They were told at the time that the health department had received an anonymous complaint saying the school was still holding chapel, according to Northon.
Lisa Stefanovsky, an administrative health officer with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, said in a statement last Friday, “We had numerous fearful individuals reach out to us concerned about health and safety in an environment that was not working to protect them.”
Stefanovsky also spoke to the assembled commissioners Tuesday afternoon, saying in part, "we listen to people, we hear people, we try to respond to their concerns. So whenever we receive a complaint regarding COVID, a school, business, or anything, we reach out and make them aware we have a complaint."
Because the school's legal counsel and the county health department were seemingly unable to reach any sort of agreement regarding the school's COVID policies, the school filed a lawsuit against the county on Sunday, Oct. 18.
"And that set off a firestorm,” Northon told FOX 17 last week.
Just a few days later, the health department would shut the school down.
Northon filed an emergency motion the next day, informing the court of the county's actions and seeking an injunction that would stop them from enforcing the health mandates based on the orders issued by the MDHHS, feeling that the county had violated a court order.
The filing says in part, "Late last night, under the cover of darkness, the County issued a fourth unlawful order against Libertas and posted placards on entrances, attached as to church property. ... More than threats, this time the County has closed the school indefinitely. Not only was this a breach of trust and highly irregular, but the County is refusing to comply with this Court’s second Order from yesterday."
The headmaster of Libertas, Robert Davis, also says in the filing that for every day the school remains closed, they will lose about $5,000 in tuition money.
"Libertas will need to refund such amount to the parents of its students for services not rendered while it remains closed," Davis says. "Such loses, if permitted to continue, will cause the permanent closure of Libertas."
Legal counsel for Libertas requested at the time that the court hold the county in contempt and to consider a temporary restraining order that would stop the county from further mandate enforcement.
The court denied both requests. The judge writing, in part, "The County has not violated any Court order. The Court issued two orders. The first denied Libertas’ request for a TRO (temporary restraining order) and ordered the County to file a statement. The County filed the required statement. Based on that submission, the Court issued the second order, which established an expedited briefing schedule and a hearing. That is all the Court has ordered."
The judge continues, "The recent orders by the County make it clear that Libertas has refused to cooperate with the County by providing information about individuals testing for COVID-19 and has refused to share information for contract tracing purposes. Along with the positive COVID-19 tests and student exposure to infected individuals, these new reasons would likely be sufficient for the County to shut the school."
Northon said there has not yet been a single student who tested positive for COVID-19. The county says in its court filings that they are aware of two teachers who did test positive for the virus. They allege that both teachers refused to cooperate in any sort of contact tracing efforts.
In a response filed with the court on Tuesday morning, the county says, "Other positives are likely among parents, teachers, administrative staff and students at Libertas as Libertas now admits. In fact, evidence will show that OCDPH has been able through the internet to link positive students and the Libertas School."
The filing continues, saying, "Ms. Mansaray prays that this Court will deny Libertas’ motion for preliminary injunction, declare that Director Gordon’s and OCDPH’s orders are presumptively valid and enforceable and trust that Libertas will comply as it has been since Friday. Libertas can reopen for in class learning if its simply follows the law and its reporting obligations and OCDPH after properly ascertaining the scope of the outbreak, clears it from quarantine."
According to a spokeswoman working with Libertas, The Thomas More Society, a nonprofit law firm based in Chicago, is now providing financial support for the school's legal actions.
The lawsuit is expected to be back in front of a judge Wednesday.