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Oregon Christian School Withdraws Lawsuit After Governor Lifted In-Person Learning Ban

An Oregon Christian school that sued the state for failing to teach in person during a pandemic lockdown dropped the case after the ban was lifted.

The First Amendment lawsuit was filed last October by Hermiston Christian School against Oregon Governor Kate Brown, as well as the heads of the departments of education and health. The K-12 private school argued that it was religious discrimination when the state forced “small” private schools, defined as those with 75 students or fewer, to close while allowing their secular public counterparts to open for in-person instruction.

According to the lawsuit, religious schools represent 100 percent of private schools in Umatilla County, where Hermiston Christian School is located.

« The defendants’ COVID-19 orders and guidance generally prohibit in-person instruction, but grant a ‘small school’ exception to public schools and deny the same exception to private religious schools, » the complaint says. .

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal organization representing Hermiston Christian School, said in a Feb. 18 statement that the school voluntarily dismissed the case because Brown has « removed special exceptions » that were previously unavailable to private schools.

« The governor had no legitimate reason to allow public schools with 75 or fewer students to provide in-person instruction while denying small private schools the same opportunity, » said Mark Lippelmann, senior advisor for Alliance Defending Freedom.

« Because this disparity no longer exists and Hermiston Christian School can now operate as nearby public schools, we are voluntarily withdrawing our lawsuit, but will review any future orders to make sure they are in compliance with the Constitution, » Lippelmann said. « Reopening plans may differ in timing and details, but must follow the Constitution. »

The lawsuit’s dismissal came a day before Brown announced that more than 116,000 students in his state had already returned to in-person learning, though that also means that nearly 80 percent of students statewide still rely on the remote learning.

« It has been almost a year since the majority of Oregon students stepped foot in a classroom and are hurting, » Brown said in a statement. « The social, emotional, mental, physical and academic impacts of distance learning on our students have been well documented. »

« The science is clear: With the proper health and safety protocols, there is very little risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools, » Brown said, adding that Oregon has received $ 500 million in federal aid that will be used to implement security measures. , provide personal protective equipment and conduct rapid on-site examinations.