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Jefferson County Health Department ‘misleads’ parents with quarantine guidance, judge says

  

A circuit judge ordered the Jefferson County Health Department to inform schools its quarantine recommendations are just guidelines, not mandatory policies that should be enforced. 

Judge Victor Melenbrink said the county health department has until Nov. 18 to advise schools it has recommendations regarding quarantine procedures, not binding mandates, and to stop disseminating a quarantine form that “misleads parents.”

Melenbrink set a preliminary hearing date for Dec. 9.

The Jefferson County Health Department was accused of violating a new state law that curbs local officials’ ability to issue sweepy shutdowns and health orders. The health department pushed back on the allegation, saying its school policies regarding COVID-19 are recommendations and aren’t binding. 

Melenbrink, a Republican who beat out an incumbent for a seat on the 23rd Judicial Court, Division 5, took issue with a quarantine form given to parents. The form was printed on the county health department’s letterhead and included its contact information — not the school’s. 

“The notice purports to restrict activity entirely unrelated to the school. The second line of the notice clearly states, in bold type, that the quarantine is ‘per the Jefferson County Health Department,’” Monday’s order said. 

“The form disseminated to the school’s by [the Jefferson County Health Department] misleads parents as to whether they are being ordered to quarantine as a matter of school policy, or as the result of an order from a government agency (and the accompanying government enforcement powers implicated thereby),” the order said. 

Melenbrink said the health department can provide a new form to schools but it must be clear that the quarantine policy is coming from the school instead of the department. 

“This order is a win for students whose right to a free education was hindered by bureaucrats intent on ignoring state and constitutional law,” Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, who works for the Thomas Moore Society and is the lead attorney in the matter, said. “We are a nation of laws, and the rule of law won today. But we have much more work to do. We must continue to push back against government overreach at all levels.”

Sweeping public health orders have come under scrutiny, particularly by Republicans, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislation signed by the governor earlier this year bars local officials from enacting orders or restrictions that hinder access to schools, businesses, and churches beyond 30 days during a six-month period amid a state of emergency. Those orders could be extended by a majority vote of the local governing body. 

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