The pastor of Cornerstone Christian Church in the midvalley appealed to the Eagle County Commissioners this week to let his school determine its own policy on masks for students based on its religious status.
Pastor Jim Tarr, who also is president of Cornerstone Christian School, said the parents of students at the school should determine whether masks should be required rather than the Eagle County Health Department.
“In the role of society, children are not created to be obedient to any other system of government except for the wishes of their parents,” Tarr said Tuesday during the public comment portion of the county commissioners’ meeting.
He said the school isn’t forbidding masks as a precaution against COVID-19. It is letting families choose.
“There are a lot of parents who say, ‘I do not want to cover my child’s face for eight hours a day, five days per week, 180 days per year,’” he told commissioners.
Cornerstone Christian School is located along Colorado Highway 82 between El Jebel and Basalt. It has about 100 students enrolled.
Tarr took his case directly to the commissioners after he was told by the Eagle County Health Department the private Christian school must adhere to an indoor mask mandate that was extended Sept. 16 for all schools in the county. Tarr said his school requested a religious exemption.
“We didn’t hear anything for about three weeks, and that happened when we were reported to the county health department,” Tarr said. “So in that process, we began to meet with them and just said how can we navigate through this?”
The answer from the health department was to mask up. It’s an answer Tarr didn’t like, and it led to some turmoil at Cornerstone Christian School.
Principal Emily Lambert submitted her resignation after the school determined it would defy the public health order. A meeting that was called for parents after Lambert’s resignation became “very polarizing” with “anti-maskers versus maskers,” a parent said.
At least three families withdrew children from the school after the controversy erupted, according to one such parent.
As the standoff between the Christian school and county unfolded, county officials said it was their intent to meet with Tarr and explain why masks were required as a precaution against COVID-19. They said they weren’t interested in a heavy-handed enforcement action.
The county commissioners didn’t engage in conversation with Tarr. It is policy not to respond public comment. County manager Jeff Shroll said Wednesday that no resolution had been reached between CCS and the county health department.
Tarr indicated Tuesday he took offense at the tone of emails he received from the county health department.
“I just want you to understand the nature of the emails that were coming to me,” he told the county commissioners. “They would include language such as this — that the Legislature of the state of Colorado has granted to the directors of health departments, that they can, if we’re not complicit with their mandates during a crisis, they can actually take control of what happens on our property, they can quarantine. It also included this idea, if we don’t align with a mandate, then the penalty can be a $5,000 fine and 18 months in jail.”
Tarr closed his 12-minute presentation by noting that former President Barrack Obama was able to host a birthday party and not wear a mask during the pandemic without fear of getting fined or imprisoned.
“But you know what, what do I get from Eagle County? With all due respect, I get emails that are threatening, that carry threatening messages to me,” Tarr said. “And here’s the thing, if our policy ends up with me getting arrested or paying a $5,000 fine — trust me, I only have about one and a half $5,000 fines in me — then we’re done. But the truth is this. If the county (health department) comes against me, you have to understand it will be like shooting a fish in a barrel. I’m a little church and a little school, and I’m saying, please, let us live according to our faith.”
While Tarr didn’t make the case that the COVID-19 disease passes over students in religious schools, he did note that no classrooms had to be closed last year at CCS because of the pandemic.