Christian school drops lawsuit after Oregon lifts ban on in-person classes for religious schools

Hermiston Christian School
Hermiston Christian School |

A Christian school in Oregon that sued the state over not being allowed to hold in-person classes during the ongoing lockdowns has ended its lawsuit after being allowed to reopen.

Hermiston Christian School, a private K-12 school located in Hermiston, Oregon, dropped the suit in district court on Wednesday.

According to the stipulated dismissal, both Hermiston and the defendants, which included Gov. Katherine Brown and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill, agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice and pay their own court costs and attorneys' fees.

Mark Lippelmann, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which helped represent the school, said in a statement shared with The Christian Post on Thursday that the dismissal came due to changes in state policy toward private school openings.

“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 Lippelmann.

“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 [U.S.] Constitution.”

Last October, the ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hermiston over Brown's order that closed small private schools while allowing small public schools to open that had 75 or fewer students.

In addition to Brown and Gill, other defendants named in the lawsuit included Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority; Joseph Fiumara Jr., director of the Umatilla County Public Health Department; Travis Hampton, superintendent of the Oregon State Police; and Terry Rowan, Umatilla County Sheriff.

“Hermiston Christian School operates in the same county as a public school that is open, and it operates with the same number of students, who are performing the same type of activity, working in an even larger physical environment, and complying with the same health and safety protocols,” stated ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker last year.

“Brown’s refusal to extend the same treatment to Hermiston Christian School as she does to small public schools violates the U.S. Constitution and discriminates against parents who choose to provide a religious education for their children.”

The dismissal of the lawsuit comes the day before Brown announced an expansion to the number of students who would be meeting in-person for class instruction.

According to Brown, the process will result in more school districts having hybrid instruction, citing recent research that there is “little risk” in spreading COVID-19 in schools.

“As districts implement the more than 160 health and safety protocols outlined in Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, we can reopen our school buildings in a way that protects students, staff, and our communities,” stated Brown.

“Our students only grow up once. We cannot let the school year end with the class of 2021 never having set foot in Oregon high schools. I know that some have had their doubts. But we can do this, by continuing to work together.”  

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