Ottawa Co. scoffs at religious defense as school denies COVID-19 spread

Ottawa County

BLENDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Tuesday court filings show the Ottawa County Department of Public Health and Libertas Christian School disagree about when a teacher developed COVID-19 symptoms and therefore when that person may have been contagious.

The health department last week shut down the school near Hudsonville, arguing it wasn’t implementing appropriate coronavirus mitigation practices and that it wasn’t giving information needed to conduct contact tracing after two teachers contracted the virus. The school had already filed a federal lawsuit against the county and state health officials over coronavirus mandates.

The county says one of the teachers infected was in the classroom the same day symptoms appeared. The school disputes that, saying symptoms weren’t visible until two days later and the teacher therefore wasn’t contagious when in the classroom.

The other teacher, the county claims, refused to identify his employer as the school. It says it only learned that out after getting an anonymous call.

The health department also notes Libertas didn’t quarantine either of the classes the infected teachers taught and won’t turn over the names of students for contract tracing. The school argues it has no obligation to do so. It also says none of its students have contracted the virus.

The county also takes issue with Libertas allowing students to attend school unmasked if their parents sign a waiver, saying that’s not a good faith interpretation of orders issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The school added that by shutting it down, the county has caused its teachers, students and parents to be shunned “like lepers” and is trampling on its right to run its school as it sees fit under its religious beliefs.

While Libertas wants the county to ‘carve out a religious exception,’ the county says that Libertas is a school, not a place of worship, and that it should therefore be following the same rules as every public and private school in the region.

Officials also argued the Bible does not prohibit wearing masks, though the school said the Bible does say it’s disrespectful to God.

A small group of Libertas supporters showed up at the county buildings in West Olive for Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting. Some were inside the meeting, others watched from the lobby and the Zoom meeting reached capacity at 100.

“The extreme action that was taken by the health department and the exaggerated and accusatory language that they used in the press release insinuated that the school is a danger to the surrounding community,” one Libertas student said.

“The way the story was crafted generated significant animosity for Libertas in particular and Christians in general,” a parent added.

Supporters said they believe the health department shut down their school in retaliation for the lawsuit.

They wanted the commissioners to do something about the health department, but commissioners were not inclined to get involved.

“If you are here to comment on the closing of Libertas School, please note that the county will not be issuing a statement prior to the litigation of this issue,” Board Chair Roger Bergman said.

—News 8’s Joe LaFurgey contributed to this report.

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