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West Michigan school has until Friday to comply with mask mandate or face closure

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
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Libertas Christian School has until Friday to come into compliance with state and local health department requirements or face closure. 

The Ottawa County Health Department on Monday issued its sixth cease-and-desist order to the school, renewing earlier threats of fines against the school and parents for failing to comply with the state mask mandate. 

The newest order removed the threat of a fine against the school's landlord, Beaverdam Christian Reformed Church, but reminded the church that it had a duty to ensure its building wasn't spreading COVID-19. 

School staff watch as parents drop off students at Libertas Christian School in Hudsonville on Monday

"We are not letting the landlord off the hook, but we have been in contact with the minister and it appears as if the church is trying to be a positive force on the school," said Douglas Van Essen, an attorney for the health department. "We shall see. Our goal is to get good faith compliance, not to be punitive."  

The health department's Monday order was issued the same day the school reopened after a three-week closure. It replaced an earlier edict that expired Monday. 

The new order requires the school to require mask usage of all students unless they have a signed doctor's note indicating a medical intolerance. The order includes a requirement the school give parents written notice that mask usage will be enforced. It also requires the school to post notices at its entry and have staff at entries to enforce the rule

The order also requires Beaverdam Christian Reform Church to tell Libertas in writing that it must follow case reporting and mask guidance. 

If those requirements aren't adhered to by 5 p.m. Friday, the school will be closed, face up to a $1,000 fine per day for violating the order and parents will be fined $250 per day for their children's violation of the order.

A University of Michigan public health law expert previously told The Detroit News that there were few to no cases across the country where a health department had successfully pursued COVID-19 fines against a landlord. 

The school filed suit in opposition to the mask mandate in federal court in October but has so far been unsuccessful in obtaining immediate relief. Both the Western District Court and Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals have denied the school's request for immediate relief. 

The school was closed by the health department shortly after the October suit was filed. Libertas reopened Nov. 9-11, then closed for nearly three weeks largely because of exposures that occurred outside the school.

The school has said it will amend its complaint in district court to reflect more recent developments, including changed epidemic orders and the threat of fines against parents and the landlord. 

Libertas argued in federal court that it should be allowed exemptions based on parental rights and religious protections given that the school starts each day with worship service and each class period is interwoven with religious teachings. 

But local health rules can adopt stricter guidelines and that appears to be the case in Ottawa County's Monday health order. 

"Because of its and its parents’ past and present resistance to the mask mandate, Libertas must require a certification signed by a licensed medical doctor that a named student or staff member cannot medically tolerate a mask before that student or staff may be admitted to the Libertas facility," the order said. 

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