Somerset Christian School to reopen after federal court win

Janie Slaven | CJ

Barring an adverse ruling from the federal appellate court, Somerset Christian School will be able to resume in-person instruction on Monday.

A local religious school is planning to resume in-person instruction Monday after a U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday that Governor Andy Beshear's latest executive order closing public and private K-12 schools is a violation of religious institutions' First Amendment rights.

Somerset Christian School was one of nine religious schools to file an amicus brief in support of the federal civil suit filed last week by Danville Christian Academy and joined by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Some 1,000 parents -- including 125 from the Somerset area -- filed a separate amicus brief.

With the restraining order blocking the governor's mandate, SCS principal John Hale advised parents that the school would resume in-person classes next Monday.

"This does not mean we can take a cavalier approach to COVID-19," Hale said in an email. "It means we must be extra vigilant to avoid any chance of spreading infection within our school family."

With that, the principal outlined guidelines for determining when to keep students at home and noted SCS would provide virtual instruction for students whose parents preferred it. "Do not feel pressured to bring your child to school," Hale wrote.

Dr. Dan Gallo and his wife Allison were two of the local parents who had signed the amicus brief.

"We feel that Somerset Christian School has been abiding by CDC and local health department guidelines to mitigate the spread of coronavirus," Mrs. Gallo stated. "Allowing students to go back to school is beneficial in many ways. Nothing can replace face-to-face classroom instruction. The school has implemented precautions and protocols including frequent hand hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks when recommended."

The court case is not over just yet. On Thanksgiving, Gov. Andy Beshear asked the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay of U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove's order.

"We are disappointed but not surprised that Judge Van Tatenhove, for the second time, has refused to acknowledge the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found an action like this is both legal and constitutional," Crystal Staley, a spokeswoman for Beshear, said Wednesday prior to the appeal.

Cameron praised the court's ruling, stating Wednesday, "This is not the first time during this pandemic where religious exercise has been threatened, first with the prohibition on drive-in church services, then in-person worship services, and now in-person instruction at religious schools.

"In each of these instances, the courts have affirmed that the freedoms provided by our Constitution are stronger than the fears of the moment and cannot be cast aside by the Governor or any leader. Our country was built on the idea of religious freedom and will always be a place of refuge for those of faith. This pandemic reminds us now, more than ever, of the importance of faith and the reassurance and stability it provides for many in the midst of challenging times," the attorney general concluded.

In a tweet Thursday, Cameron also urged the governor to drop his appeal following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's virus-related restrictions on religious services.

Coronavirus cases continue to surge throughout Kentucky. The state reported 3,870 new cases Thursday and 1,747 more as of Friday afternoon. All but five Kentucky counties are considered to be in the red zone.

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