CHICAGO (CBS) -- After four days of defying Gov. JB Pritzker's order to close all public and private schools in Illinois due to the coronavirus, a Kane County religious school has now agreed to institute remote learning.
Monday morning, the pastor of Northwest Bible Baptist Church in unincorporated Elgin canceled classes at Northwest Baptist Academy, and switching to remote learning to comply with the governor's order. The school has approximately 60 students and 20 staff.
Staff was being allowed inside the school on Monday to prepare for e-learning.
Kane County Sheriff's deputies had earlier set up shop outside the school, handing out flyers to Northwest Baptist Academy parents, urging them to comply with the governor's "stay at home" order. Deputies were not turning parents away from the school, but were informing them of the guidelines of the governor's orders for schools to close and everyone in Illinois to stay home through April 7, and informing them of the dangers of gathering in large groups.
Last week, the sheriff's office launched an investigation after learning the school was not complying with Pritzker's order to close all schools in Illinois from March 17 through March 30. The governor has since extended the school closings order through April 7.
Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said the church pastor, Keith Gomez, refused to close the school, claiming his First Amendment rights.
Online, the self-proclaimed old fashioned church said it has stepped up cleaning efforts in the wake of COVID-19 but makes decisions to stay open "based on what is in the best interest of our people not because of government mandates."
Meantime, Northwest Bible Baptist Church said it plans to continue Sunday church services, though they are urging anyone who feels sick, or who is elderly or vulnerable to stay home.
"Our freedom to assemble and exercise religion is one of the most foundational and defended rights in our nation's history. This God-given right is protected by our Constitution and has been reaffirmed countless times by our courts amidst many attempts of government overreach. Closing the doors of a church is a momentous decision of great consequence, and one that is not to be made lightly. At Northwest Bible Baptist Church, decisions are made based on what is in the best interest of our people, not because of government mandates. This is a very fluid situation, and decisions will be made with wisdom and prayer," the church said in a statement on its website.
The church also said it is taking "proactive measures" to prevent the spread of the virus.
- No handshaking or fellowship before or after services.
- Seating restricted to every other pew to increase distances.
- The balcony will be open for additional seating.
- Choir (and practice) has been suspended until further notice.
- The coffee area will be closed until further notice.
- Hymnals will not be used in order to eliminate points of contact.
- Pews and door handles will be disinfected before and after every service.
- Chairs in every classroom will be disinfected after each use.
- Nursery toys and surfaces will be disinfected after each service.
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