An Oregon Christian school that sued the state for not being allowed to teach in person during a pandemic lockdown has dropped the case after the ban was lifted.
The First Amendment lawsuit was filed last October by Hermiston Christian School against Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, as well as heads of education and health departments. The private K-12 school argued that it was religious discrimination when the state forced “small” private schools—defined as those with 75 or fewer students—to close while allowing their secular, public counterparts to open for in-person instructions.
According to the lawsuit, religious schools account for 100 percent of private schools in Umatilla County, where Hermiston Christian School is located.
“Defendants’ COVID-19 orders and guidance generally prohibit in-person instruction but grant a ‘small school’ exception to public schools while denying the same exception to private religious schools,” the complaint reads.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal organization representing Hermiston Christian School, said in a Feb. 18 statement that the school has voluntarily dismissed the case because Brown has “eliminated special exceptions” that were previously unavailable to private schools.
“The governor had no legitimate reason for allowing public schools with 75 or fewer students to provide in-person instruction while denying the same opportunity to small private schools,” said Mark Lippelmann, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom.
“Because this disparity no longer exists and Hermiston Christian School can now operate like public schools nearby, we are voluntarily withdrawing our lawsuit but will review any future orders to ensure that they comport with the Constitution,” Lippelmann said. “Re-opening plans can differ in timing and details, but they must follow the Constitution.”
The dismissal of the lawsuit came a day before Brown announced that more than 116,000 students in her state have already returned to in-person learning, though that also means nearly 80 percent of students statewide are still relying on remote learning.
“It has been almost a year since most Oregon students have set foot in a classroom, and they are suffering,” 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 proper health and safety protocols in place, there is very little risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools,” Brown said, adding that Oregon has received $500 million in federal relief that will be used to implement safety measures, provide personal protective equipment, and conduct rapid on-site screenings.