Palm Beach Catholic school students required to wear masks

Jonah McKeown   By Jonah McKeown for CNA

Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Palm Beach. / null

Palm Beach, Fla., Aug 24, 2021 / 15:02 pm (CNA).

Catholic school students in the Diocese of Palm Beach will be required to wear masks indoors for at least the first 60 days of school, after which the mask policy will be reviewed. The policy went into effect Monday.

According to an Aug. 22 memo from the diocese’s Office of Catholic Schools, masks are required for all individuals “while indoors in any buildings on our school campus and on school transportation,” and are not required when students are outdoors.

“Should your child come to school without a mask, a mask will be given to your child and he/she will be expected to comply and wear the mask,” Superintendent of Schools Gary Gelo wrote in the memorandum.

“If you or your child refuses, your child will be sent home. Your child will not be allowed to attend class without a mask. Families who fail to comply with these guidelines may be asked to consider other education options for their child.”

Parents have the option to apply for a medical accommodation, but the child must continue to wear a mask until the application is processed and approved.

Florida is in the midst of a COVID-19 case surge brought on largely by the spread of the Delta variant. The state on Monday reported 42,143 COVID-19 cases and 726 deaths to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the Miami Herald.

Since the start of the pandemic, Florida has recorded over 3 million cases and 43,000 deaths related to the coronavirus.

“We understand that some families strongly oppose the masks and some families are proponents of students wearing masks. We have received calls and emails on both sides of this issue,” Gelo noted, offering his rationale for the decision in the memorandum.

“Unfortunately, the data released on August 19, 2021 by the Florida Department of Health indicates continued upward trends in the number of positive cases per 100,000 in each county. The peak is not expected for a few more weeks and we are looking for numbers of less then [sic] 100/100,000. New case positivity rates are also continuing to increase in our area,” he wrote.

Palm Beach is not the only Florida diocese implementing a mask mandate for the start of the school year. The Diocese of St. Augustine has faced some opposition to its mask mandate, which was promulgated two days before the start of the school year. Dozens of parents have since gathered outside the diocesan offices protesting the decision.

Deacon Scott Conway, school superintendent of St. Augustine, said the mask decision is related to COVID-19 numbers and will be relaxed once these numbers go down, the Catholic Spirit reported.

The CDC’s most recent guidance, issued in early August, recommends wearing masks indoors for all students, staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. The American Academy of Pediatrics is also recommending wearing masks because many students are too young to be vaccinated.

Other dioceses have taken different approaches.

The Archdiocese of Atlanta under Archbishop Greg Hartemeyer has adopted a hybrid approach whereby most elementary school students will be required to wear masks, while for high schoolers masks will be optional. Parents have protested there, as well.

The Diocese of Cleveland has “strongly recommended” wearing masks in its schools, but has stopped short of requiring them. The diocese has noted that “masks may be required for a period of time in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in a school or community, or for any reason when a local health department deems it to be necessary due to local circumstances.”

In late 2020, a Catholic elementary school in Michigan sued the state’s health department over a mandate that masks be worn continually during the school day, calling the requirement unnecessary, and harmful to its younger students. A judge ultimately refused to intervene and issue an injunction against the mask mandate, and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision on Monday.

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