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Archdiocese of Chicago shifts course on school mask mandate

Christine Rousselle   By Christine Rousselle for CNA

(Image: 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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  1. It is worth pointing out the fact that during the many riots during the summer of 2020 the vast majority of the ‘participants’ were NOT wearing masks unless, of course, they were planning on some light-fingered ‘shopping’ as part of the experience. Given that one would expect significant outbreaks of the virus in those areas, particularly Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Were there outbreaks? No.

    Now we are in the midst of the NFL Playoffs, with the super-duper bowl coming up Sunday. At all the games leading up to this one the crowds have been huge, meaning at least 60,000 people right next to each other for 3 hours, which would certainly lead up to an outbreak.

    Given these circumstances – no social distancing (?), no masks, and people jumping up and down screaming and yelling for 3 hours, it would be reasonable to expect outbreaks of the virus.

    Has such occurred? No.

    Which begs the question – what good are the masks?

  2. This report seems a little strange to one who lives in the suburban Cook County part of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Minor point: Reference is made to “Evergreen, IL.” The name of the village is actually Evergreen Park. What is especially confusing is that all of Cook County except for Evanston and Oak Park, which are in the county but not within the jurisdiction of the Cook County Department of Public Health, is still under an indoor mask mandate imposed by the CCDPH (see I can tell you that as of right now, I definitely cannot go into an indoor public space anywhere in Cook County without a mask. In Lake County, on the other hand, few places require masks. As a substitute teacher at a Catholic K-8 school in suburban Cook County, I would be very pleased to see masks become optional, but I think there will be at least a few more days when confusion will reign.

  3. It is time to re-enroll for next year. Prices are up–even if tuition payments are not up (yet), parents need grocery, gas, and heating money first–and those have skyrocketted. There are still a number of unemployed parents who could easily, more effectively, and for considerably less cost, homeschool their child.
    Funny how “science” works.

  4. John Pfannenstiel hits the nail on the head: “Eminence” Cupich has rcvd his new script from his occult mistress “Her Honor” Lightfoot, that the party is in trouble for the mid-terms, and the federal revenues flowing to the Archdiocese are in jeopardy, as the “the Party” of “Eminence” Cupich faces a grim mid-term election.

    Masks will return “after the rigged election counting.”

  5. I wish someone in catholic journalism would expose’ chicago catholic schools.
    My grandkids attend a downtown parish school. The pastor hired a noncatholic as principal aho immedciately impkemented a mandatory secular meditation class in which the kids are instructed to clear their minds and listen to a nongender bird to speak to them. The pastor is good with this.
    I have been told the cathedral school which is near is approx half noncatholic even though there is a waiting list to get in. Mayor lightfoots kids are enrolled there.
    None of the kids are required to attend Mass or religion class.
    I doubt most parents agree with this. Our church leadership is harming the church.
    This along with his “prochoice” actions and comments is why bishop cupich was recently boo’d off the podium in chicago.

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