NEWS RELEASE: Statement from the Ottawa County Department of Public Health on the United States District Court Ruling on Libertas Christian School’s motion for a preliminary injunction against it

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November 3, 2020

Media Contact: Kristina Wieghmink, public information officer I mobile/text 616-510-8523

Statement from the Ottawa County Department of Public Health on the United States District Court Ruling on Libertas Christian School’s motion for a preliminary injunction against it

“We applaud Honorable Paul L. Maloney for denying Libertas’ motion to enjoin the Public Health Department from enforcing the State of Michigan’s mask mandate in schools,” said Deputy Health Administrator Marcia Mansaray. “A contrary ruling would have cast doubt on the mask mandate in all sections of society, just as the virus is surging in what appears to be a second wave in Michigan.”

Ottawa County’s Health Officer, Lisa Stefanovsky adds, “The virus is not partisan and the mask mandate is not partisan. While we understand that the wearing of masks has been politicized in this election season, federal and state scientists and epidemiologists all agree that masks work to protect the wearer and even more effectively, those with whom the wearer comes in contact.”

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH) will continue to partner with educational leaders to assess the best course of action on a school-by-school basis. The OCDPH understands the critical role schools have in the lives of children and families. Schools also play a major role in helping to reduce or prevent the incidence of illness among children and adults in our communities. Ottawa County schools are working hard to maintain a safe environment while also providing quality education, and we trust that Libertas will join their ranks. The guidebook Managing Communicable Diseases in Schools, prepared by the Michigan Department of Education and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, states when schools report illnesses to their local health department, public health specialists can assist schools with disease prevention and control guidance. Michigan Law requires schools and childcare centers to report specific diseases—like COVID-19—according to Act No. 368 of the Public Acts of 1978.

Many community members have shared their concerns about the temporary closing of Libertas School to in-person learning due to public health violations, while others have praised the OCDPH for upholding their obligation to prevent further infection of the virus. OCDPH specifically and Ottawa County generally respect everyone’s freedom of religion, whether that be Christianity, any other religion or no religion. Libertas was unable to convince Judge Maloney that masks interfered with any exercise of religious principles. In fact, Libertas actually allows students and teachers to mask and some have. It was refusing to enforce the mandate because its parents have nonreligious philosophical objections to them. Ottawa County has over 100 private, public and parochial schools and Libertas was the only one that was not enforcing the mask mandate and that refused to do so upon investigation, which was spurred by complaints from the Libertas community itself.

OCDPH only closed the Libertas to in-person learning after it refused to provide student information so Ottawa County could perform contact tracing for several classes affected by teachers at Libertas who became acutely ill with COVID-19 after teaching classes within two days of onset. This forced Libertas to utilize virtual learning, as it did all last spring during the shelter in place orders. With the mandatory quarantine over this Thursday, Libertas is free to open on Friday to in-person learning again, provided it agrees to require masks in the classroom. OCDPH sincerely hopes Libertas will agree to do this while it continues to litigate the validity of the mask mandate through the rest of the case. This is the same mandate being enforced by all other Ottawa County schools. If Libertas chooses to remain closed to in-person learning because it will not enforce the State’s mandate, that decision will be that of Libertas, not OCDPH.

With COVID-19 cases increasing exponentially across the county, state and nation; it is more important than ever to work together to slow the spread of infection. With an increase of community-wide spread of the virus comes an increase in the number of people who may require hospitalization and tragically to some, even death. Masks matter and masks are working to keep the schools in Ottawa County open. OCDPH applauds the community for its masking response. Now is not the time to let down our guard or our resolve to “Stay safe so we can stay open.”

More information about Ottawa County's COVID-19 response at