Archdiocese of Chicago shifts course on school mask mandate

Archdiocese of Chicago shifts course on school mask mandate.

null / Halfpoint

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 10, 2022 / 15:41 pm (CNA).

Catholic schools across much of the Archdiocese of Chicago can now make masks optional, according to an abrupt shift in the archdiocese’s COVID-19 policy.

Citing a “dramatic drop” in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, Greg Richmond, the archdiocese’s schools superintendent, announced the change in a letter sent to parents Tuesday, Feb. 8.

Richmond wrote that there are no classrooms in quarantine anywhere in the archdiocese, and that “nearly half of our schools are reporting no cases at all” of the coronavirus. 

As a result, he said in the letter, “We have decided to proceed with a mask optional policy in places where masks are not mandated by local health authorities and to continue to require masks in schools where they are still required by local health authorities.” The policy took effect Thursday, Feb. 10.

For the time being, the archdiocese’s masking mandate will remain in effect at schools within the city of Chicago, and the suburbs of Evanston, and Oak Park, where local indoor masking orders remain in place. Once those areas lift their mandates, schools there will also become mask-optional, Richmond noted.

The territory of the Archdiocese of Chicago includes Cook and Lake counties. Lake County and the suburban areas of Cook County do not currently have mask mandates in place. 

Richmond clarified that anyone in the schools where the mandate has been lifted who wishes to continue wearing a mask is free to do so.

“We support all school families and employees in whichever decision they make regarding the regular use of masks,” he said in the letter. “Individuals who wish to wear a mask are encouraged to use an N95 mask and we encourage everyone age 5 and above to receive the COVID-19 vaccine/booster.”

Other COVID-19 protocols, including quarantining, will remain in place. Students who are returning from a five-day quarantine will be instructed to wear a mask for days six through 10. Mask mandates may return if there is a “significant increase in a classroom or entire school” in the number of cases. 

Principal remains on leave

The shift in policy is the latest in a series of recent developments pertaining to mask requirements in Chicago area schools.

A state judge on Feb. 4 nullified Illinois’ statewide mask mandate for schools, ruling that the government was not allowed “to act unlawfully even in the pursuit of desirable ends.”

The ruling, however, left the door open for nonpublic schools to continue to impose their own mandates. Responding to the ruling, the archdiocese announced that its mandate would remain in effect.

“We will continue the current mask policy for now,” Richmond wrote then in an email to parents, as reported by LGIS News Agency.

“A court case is not medicine,” he wrote. “While we follow the laws that apply to us, our decisions about the health and safety of our students and staff will always be guided by health data and in consultation with doctors and trained public health officials.”

Richmond added that allowing students not to wear masks “would create confusion and disruption in our schools.”

Then on Feb. 8, parents at Queen of Martyrs Catholic School in Evergreen, Illinois, located in Cook County, protested after the archdiocese removed its principal for making masks optional at the school. The principal, M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius, told Chicago media that he was placed on administrative leave and did not expect to be reinstated to his position.

Richmond sent his letter out to parents amending the policy later that same day, but Mathius was still relieved of his duties as of Thursday, Feb. 10, WGN-TV Chicago reported. The archdiocese declined to comment on his status, saying it was a personnel matter, the station reported. Parents and students plan to hold a rally Sunday calling for Mathius to be reinstated, the WGN-TV report said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago is one of several bishops in the U.S. who has instructed clerics not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines. 

Cupich also decreed that all archdiocesan employees and clergy must receive the vaccine for COVID-19, only allowing exemptions for medical reasons.

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