Mask Up or Shut Down: Colorado School Given Ultimatum Over Mask Mandate

By Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac
Reporter
Steven Kovac is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Michigan. He is a former small businessman, local elected official, and conservative political activist. He is an ordained minister of the Gospel. Steven and his wife of 32 years have two grown daughters. He can be reached at steven.kovac@epochtimes.us
September 29, 2021 Updated: September 29, 2021

A private Christian school in Loveland, Colorado, is planning to file a lawsuit against the local health department after being forced to impose a mask mandate on students under the threat of an imminent shutdown.

Parents at Resurrection Christian School in Loveland, Colorado, were told on Sept. 15 that all persons entering school buildings the next day must wear a mask, by order of the Larimer County Health Department, or their school would be closed. The order allowed for medical exemptions but made no distinction in regards to vaccination status or acquired immunity.

The same evening, school Superintendent Jerry Eshleman vowed in a video message to parents and staff to fight the health department’s edict in court. He urged parents to comply with the public health order for the time being, so that the students wouldn’t have their school year disrupted by a forced school closure while the case was being fought.

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A crossing sign outside of Resurrection Christian School in Loveland, Colo., on Sept. 27, 2021. (Michael Ciaglo for The Epoch Times)

“We are fighting for parents’ right to decide to mask or not to mask their child. This is NOT political. It is not a pro vs. anti-mask or vaccination thing,” Eshleman wrote in an email to The Epoch Times. “This whole thing is about our freedoms. Both those established by our Constitution, and those that we feel are rooted in our Judeo-Christian ethos.” 

According to Health Department spokesperson Kori Wilford, the public health order came after weeks of consultations between health department officials and Eshleman over sanitation and mitigation measures the school was taking to combat the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus among its 1,600 pre-school through 12th-grade students and 160 staff members.

“RCS (Resurrection Christian School) has been a good partner working with us, but they feel very strongly about masking,” she told The Epoch Times. “They made it very clear that they would not comply with a mask mandate.”

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People walk through Resurrection Christian School in Loveland, Colo., on Sept. 27, 2021. (Michael Ciaglo for The Epoch Times)

Wilford said that when it was determined that all grade levels at RCS met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s standard of “outbreak” status, it was time to act decisively and impose a mask mandate on the school. An outbreak is defined as five or more cases in a class or school. 

“We do not want to be the Big, Bad Wolf, but we have a duty under the Colorado Revised Statutes and Regulations to not let the outbreak continue,” she said.

Wilford said that the mask mandate is a way to “keep kids in school” so they could receive in-person instruction. The school came into compliance with the mask mandate on the day after the public health order, which included the threat of closure.

“Of course, we always want voluntary compliance. We have the authority to serve a notice of closure, but not to be punitive,” said Wilford.

The public health order cited a state law that authorizes county health departments “to close schools and public places and to prohibit gatherings of people to protect public health.”

Mike Riggs, father of two high school boys enrolled at RCS, told The Epoch Times that the health department’s action brings us “one step closer to a dictatorial state becoming the church.”

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Karen Riggs and her husband, Mike Riggs, stand with their sons, Resurrection Christian School junior Charlie Riggs, 16 (2nd L), and freshman Graham Riggs, 13, outside the school in Loveland, Colo., on Sept. 27, 2021. (Michael Ciaglo for The Epoch Times)

“The mask and distancing mandates imposed by the Larimer County officials simply don’t make sense,” Riggs said. “For a year and a half, county officials have been preaching, ‘Follow the science!’ But the science does not support the mask-wearing.”

Riggs said he believes that if his boys were forced to wear a mask for hours during the school day, they would be harmed by inhaling too much carbon dioxide as well as by the high bacteria buildup inside the mask.

“We will keep fighting for our kids,” Riggs said.

Since the interview, both of Riggs’s boys obtained medical exemptions from the family’s physician.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have imposed statewide school mask mandates, according to data tallied by Burbio. Five states have bans in place on school mask mandates. The issue is in legal limbo in several others. There is no statewide mandate in Colorado.

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Resurrection Christian School sophomore Luke Sutter, 15, stands with his mother, Vicki Sutter, outside the school in Loveland, Colo., on Sept. 27, 2021. (Michael Ciaglo for The Epoch Times)

Parents Carl and Vicki Sutter also have two boys enrolled at RCS.

Carl Sutter, an area pastor, gave the reasoning behind a Christian’s religious objection to the mask mandate: “God put parents in charge of their children’s welfare and well-being. Children are on loan to us from God. We cannot in good conscience break that trust. We will not bow down to government. We will find the resources to fund a legal challenge to the health department’s order.”

Vicki Sutter has concerns about the political implications of the order.

“The county is trying to drive a wedge in order to insert themselves between parents and child,” she told The Epoch Times.

She noted the comparison between the health department’s actions and the strategy of communist dictator Vladimir Lenin, in which the Bolshevik expressed the need to “rescue children from the harmful influence of the family,” and how the children must come under the “beneficent influence” of a communist education, all with the aim of obliging “the mother to give her child to the Soviet state.”

“Children are not born to the government, they are born to parents,” she said. “It is our responsibility to make decisions regarding their health.

“If we abdicate our role as parents to the ‘beneficent influence’ of Larimer County, it would be an affront to God and contrary to our faith.”

The national dispute over school mask mandates is split sharply along political lines, with Democrats heavily favoring mandates, and Republicans strongly opposing them. The administration of Democratic President Joe Biden has gotten directly involved in the fight over the mandates on the state level. The administration has begun repaying school districts for funds lost through defying state bans on school mask mandates. Biden’s education secretary, Miguel Cardona, launched several “directed” investigations into states that have banned school mask mandates.

Like many of the 800 families with children enrolled at RCS, parents Richard and Christy Fagerlin undertook a considerable sacrifice when they chose a Christian education for their four children at RCS, where the tuition can run from $8,000 to $10,000 per student per year.

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(L-R) Resurrection Christian School parents and students Vicki Sutter, Christy Fagerlin, sixth grader Lincoln Fagerlin, 11, freshman Graham Riggs, 13, junior Charlie Riggs, 16, Mike Riggs, Karen Riggs, sophomore Zach Coet, 15, Eric Coet and school board president Mark Siffring stand for a portrait outside the school on in Loveland, Colo., on Sept. 27, 2021. The group is protesting action by the state of Colorado that would shut down the private school if it doesn’t implement mask requirements. (Michael Ciaglo for the Epoch Times)

According to Richard Fagerlin, the restrictions of the 1 1/2-year pandemic have been particularly hard on his two sons who haven’t yet graduated.

“I think of the losses they endured because of COVID restrictions. One lost the opportunity to run in the state cross-country championship. Both our boys lost prime recruiting time because of those restrictions,” he told The Epoch Times.

“The kids were so looking forward to getting back to normal this year,” said Christy Fagerlin. “They were so happy. Sure, we had a few cases, and here we go again with harsh restrictions and mask mandates. This time around, we ought to have known better. It seems immoral to tell us they know what’s best for our children.”

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Resurrection Christian School sixth-grader Lincoln Fagerlin, 11, stands with his mother, Christy Fagerlin, outside the school in Loveland, Colo., on Sept. 27, 2021. (Michael Ciaglo for The Epoch Times)

“The science and data are clear,” her husband added. “Kids are at little risk from the virus, and we family members are at little risk from them.

“What’s going on here and across the country is a fight for righteousness. We need to stand tall for the truth. Our First Amendment rights are being infringed upon,” he said. “This fight is not about masks. It is about overreach into parental decisions.”

By statute, an aggrieved or interested party has 90 days from the date of the order to request a judicial review in Larimer County District Court; however, the party must continue to obey the directives of the order while the request is pending.

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.

Epoch Times Photo
The sun sets behind the playground outside Resurrection Christian School in Loveland, Colo., on Sept. 27, 2021. (Michael Ciaglo for The Epoch Times)
Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac
Reporter
Steven Kovac is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Michigan. He is a former small businessman, local elected official, and conservative political activist. He is an ordained minister of the Gospel. Steven and his wife of 32 years have two grown daughters. He can be reached at steven.kovac@epochtimes.us