Lawyers for three small Christian schools faced off with the executive director of Jefferson County Public Health on Tuesday during a day-long hearing in which the county health department asked schools to comply with its COVID-19 mask mandate for students. demanded.
The health department sought a judge’s order last week after the agency found that three schools were not compulsorily enforcing masks in their classrooms, according to a court filing. The schools objected, saying they were following both the county’s guidance – which they argued was issued late, lacked legal authority and had changed over time – and that the county’s public health The order was unconstitutional, among other arguments.
Don Comstock, executive director of Jefferson County Public Health, was the only witness to take the stand Tuesday; The hearing has not concluded and will continue on Wednesday.
Comstock testified extensively about rising rates of COVID-19 infection in the county, and particularly among school-aged children who are not able to vaccinate children under 12 and Schools have seen significant rates of infection since returning this fall.
“For the first time, both the 6 to 11 age group and the 12 to 17 age group have higher incidence rates than adults,” she said. “This is the first time that has been observed in the state of Colorado during the entire pandemic.”
School supporters packed the courtroom on Tuesday; In the morning some observers sat side by side on the floor and stood at the back of the room. Comstock interrupted her testimony at one point to remind observers to wear their masks correctly.
“Your Honor, I know it’s irregular, but I’m worried that we have a very packed courtroom with a lot of people not wearing their masks properly—” the audience’s derisive laughter lashed out at him. Gave.
District Court Judge Randall Earp told everyone in the courtroom to wear masks over their nose and mouth and said those who did not would be removed. The deputy removed a man from the overflow room who refused to wear a mask.
Lawyers for the school who cross-examined Comstock on Tuesday focused on the arguments the schools filed in court. Faith Christian Academy argued that it implemented a mask mandate in its school, but at the time health inspectors visited, there were “some loopholes in enforcement as everyone was trying to understand the scope of the public health system.” , while also adding to everyone else’s responsibility to start the school year.”
Beth Eden Baptist School said in a filing that the school decided last week – hours before the lawsuit was filed – that it would comply with the mandate and allow unobstructed access for inspectors.
“By the time this case was filed, our client was in full compliance,” attorney Sean Pearman said of Beth Eden during Tuesday’s hearing. Health Department attorney, Craig May, disagreed with that characterization.
The Augustine Classical Academy also stated that it was in compliance with the county mask mandate, pointing out that the original mask order was changed in late August and that the school adjusted its initial response to that change.
“We are curious as to why the JCPH targeted smaller religious schools in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate our schools for not complying with a public health order, while all three schools apparently either has indicated its voluntary compliance and/or was investigated and found to be in compliance by JCPH inspectors,” Justin Riley, interim executive director of the Augustine Classical Academy, said in a statement Tuesday.
Schools also raised objections on constitutional grounds, arguing that masks are mandatory and testing requirements for unvaccinated students and staff violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as the Department of Health wanted schools to conduct health checks without prior notice. Allow access to inspectors.
“The plaintiff asks this court to grant the plaintiff an unprecedented power to conduct generalized and random warrantless searches in order to enforce a direction for which the violation is punishable,” said a filing from the Augustine Classical Academy. “The Fourth Amendment prohibits such enormous power.”