Eagle County on Tuesday backed down from efforts to try to force a private Basalt-area school to follow a mask mandate, but could resume the battle in January.
The county government has filed an 11th hour motion to set aside a hearing in Eagle County District Court over a temporary restraining order requiring students and staff at Cornerstone Christian School to wear masks at the interior as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. Cornerstone is located between El Jebel and Basalt in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The county public health director and the public health board requested a temporary restraining order on December 6 and requested an immediate ruling from Judge Russell Granger. The next day, Granger denied giving a judgment without a hearing. He has set a hearing for Tuesday.
County officials decided Monday afternoon to drop the attempt to get a TRO due to timing issues.
“Eight days will have passed between the plaintiff’s initial claim in this case and the court’s potential reconsideration of the petition,” Eagle County said in its petition. “While COVID-19 has continued to spread within the defendant’s school, this continuing spread, which the plaintiffs sought to prevent through the application for a temporary restraining order, has likely already occurred. “
In addition, the school will be leaving for Christmas vacation next week, so a temporary order would have little practical effect, County District Attorney Bryan Treu said in a media statement Tuesday. Instead, the county could seek a permanent order in January after classes resume, he said.
Granger canceled the hearing and told lawyers for the county and Cornerstone to keep him informed of the need for a permanent order hearing.
Pastor Jim Tarr of Cornerstone Christian Center, also the school’s executive director, rebuked Eagle County commissioners on Tuesday for denying the Cornerstone “day in court”. Speaking during a public comment portion of the meeting, he accused county officials of providing the media and the public with one-sided portrayal of events at the school and of preventing church officials from s ‘express in public forums.
He called the dispute a “clash of worldviews” of public health against personal freedoms.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 and the future of the mask’s tenure complicate the county’s strategy.
County commissioners, acting as a board of health, on Tuesday asked health director Heath Harmon to extend a public health order requiring masks to be worn inside schools for an additional month. It was due to expire on Friday. Now it is extended until January 17th.
Harmon said there is no doubt that omicron will affect Eagle County and surrounding areas.
“It’s going to be a bit bumpy,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of cases going around. “
Extending the mask’s tenure until January 17 will save time to see how the variant affects the region. The children will be back to school for about eight days with masks before the order expires, Harmon noted. The goal, he said, is to remove the mask’s warrant as soon as it is deemed safe.
Safety is at the heart of the dispute between the county and Cornerstone. In its complaint, Eagle County argues that the school should be ordered to comply with the mask mandate to stop the spread of the disease at the Cornerstone school and daycare and in the community of Midvalley as a whole.
“The balance of actions favors an injunction because protecting the public health of claimants from the risks associated with COVID-19, including hospitalization and death, outweighs any potential impact caused by compliance with medical orders.” public health, including the requirement to cover the face in school settings to prevent the spread of this potentially deadly virus, ”the county wrote in its complaint.
But Cornerstone’s attorney wrote in response that the county had not presented a specific case justifying an interference with constitutional rights.
“” (I) in its applications and orders, the Complainants do not refer to any public health emergency specific to Eagle County that would necessitate the urgency of restricting Cornerstone Christian and the fundamental constitutional rights of its families today. ” , wrote Beth Chambers of Corporon law firm Aurora.
Chambers argued that Cornerstone Christian would suffer irreparable harm if the mask warrant were required.
“Cornerstone Christian policy is constrained by its religious belief that it is the sole right and responsibility of parents to determine what is best for the emotional, spiritual and physical well-being of their children,” said the responnse.
He continued: “To demand that Cornerstone Christian, as a church, dictate to parents decisions about wearing their child’s mask would directly undermine the freedoms afforded to Christian families in Cornerstone to exercise their religious beliefs regarding authority. and parental responsibility. Before God, Cornerstone Christian cannot submit to government demands to violate their religious beliefs in this manner. Moreover, such a request would violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Further, Chambers’ response said the county had failed to show how Cornerstone’s stance on parental discretion would irreparably undermine it and that the county health order was an unconstitutional delegation of power. .
No matter how the legal battle unfolds, it has already taken its toll on the small school. In previous meetings with county officials, Tarr said there were around 100 students in Kindergarten to Grade 12. On Tuesday he told commissioners “we have lost about 50% of our school”.
Tarr insisted he would continue to defend the freedoms and freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution on principle.
County commissioners, acting as a board of health, said at a previous meeting they would not pursue criminal charges against Cornerstone officials. However, Tarr said defying a possible civil order imposing masks could have consequences such as fines and jail time.
“You can take me to oblivion if you want to,” Tarr said. “I could lose my house, I could lose my checking account, I could lose my post in church, I could lose this school, but one thing that I will not support and that I will lose are freedoms and freedoms. granted to me by the Constitution of the United States.