FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hundreds of students returned to class in-person at Stone Ridge Christian's two campuses in Merced County on Monday.
Local health officials say the move is in direct violation of county and state health orders, but supporters argue administrators are taking precautions to keep everyone safe and that kids need to be back in class for social, emotional, and academic reasons.
The parking lot at Stone Ridge Christian's 6th through 12th-grade campus on Don Ward Road appeared similar to a pre-pandemic school day.
Students piled out of cars with their backpacks and greeted one another, with only some wearing masks.
But Sheriff Vern Warnke says he visited the campus once classes started and saw everyone wearing face coverings and social distancing. He also spoke with the principal.
Sheriff Vern Warnke says, "She's meeting all the guidelines as any business would pertaining to what the public health department or any health department has said would be safe procedures. I mean, it's safer at that school than it is at Walmart."
That's good enough for the sheriff, but not for many others who believe the high school and elementary campus on Yosemite Avenue should both follow state guidelines and only allow in-person classes after the county is off the monitoring list with coronavirus cases more under control.
"It's too soon, it's too soon because we're not being successful with this pandemic," says Merced resident Alan Walker.
The fences surrounding both campuses have recently been covered with a dark material, and one person in a truck repeatedly tried to block our photographer who was filming from off the school property.
One staff member who wants to remain anonymous says employees and parents were asked to keep the re-opening quiet and that enrollment has increased significantly as public schools remain on distance learning.
The county's public health department released a statement saying in part that Stone Ridge's reopening plan does not follow state or county guidelines and that it "strongly condemns this act, which places students, staff, and the surrounding community at increased health risk during this COVID-19 pandemic."
The County Health Officer also says Stone Ridge Christian has chosen not to participate in educator stakeholder meetings or sought guidance on reopening safety. Action News reached out to the school but has not received a response.
Merced County's Stone Ridge Christian resumes in-person classes in opposition of health orders