Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2022 / 17:44 pm (CNA).
Following an outcry from parents, the Archdiocese of Washington has reportedly decided to permit its schools in Maryland to go mask-optional.
The change in policy was first reported by Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner. Carney has several children enrolled at schools in the Archdiocese of Washington.
According to Carney, the change was announced on a telephone call the morning of Feb. 16, and will go into effect on Feb. 21. That day, an indoor mask mandate in Maryland’s largest county is set to expire.
The archdiocese’s updated mask-optional policy only applies to children enrolled in its schools located in Maryland. Children who attend Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., will still have to wear masks, as the District of Columbia still has a mandatory indoor masking order.
The territory of the Archdiocese of Washington includes five counties in Maryland plus the entirety of the District of Columbia. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced in early February that he would look to make masks optional in schools.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is also located in Maryland, dropped its mandatory mask policy on Feb. 13 and permitted parents to decide whether to mask their children. Catholic schools located within the territory of the Archdiocese of Washington, but not operated by the archdiocese, also went mask-optional around this time.
In neighboring Virginia, newly-inaugurated Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an order in January removing the commonwealth’s mask mandate in schools. The Diocese of Arlington’s schools immediately shifted to a mask-optional policy as a result.
The apparent change in the Archdiocese of Washington’s policy regarding masks comes less than a week after the archdiocese refused to commit to any sort of changes.
On the evening of Feb. 10, Archdiocese of Washington Superintendent Kelly Branaman released a statement declining to say when the mandatory mask policy would be suspended.
“The ADW Catholic Schools Office has been closely monitoring local data and conditions throughout the school year with an eye toward removing the masking requirement in our schools when warranted by local conditions,” said the statement.
“With declining case rates, increased vaccination rates, and indoor mask mandates set to expire in local jurisdictions, we are working with archdiocesan leadership to finalize our plan and timeline to remove the masking requirement so that families may decide for their children whether to wear a mask in our schools. We will keep school leaders and parents informed of our next steps in the near future,” she said.
At the time of the statement, students at some archdiocesan schools were required to wear masks both indoors and outdoors.
A letter signed by approximately 1,500 parents of children enrolled in Archdiocese of Washington schools in Maryland requested that the archdiocese update its mandatory mask policy by the end of the month of February.
That letter was to have been delivered to Cardinal Wilton Gregory Feb. 18.
CNA spoke to many parents of children enrolled at Archdiocese of Washington schools. Many expressed frustration that the archdiocese had not followed the lead of the Archdiocese of Baltimore or the Diocese of Arlington.
“The kids are not okay. They’re stressed, having developmental and behavioral issues, and they’re yearning for normalcy,” Nadia Simon, parent of two children at Little Flower School in Bethesda, Md., said.
Simon’s kindergartener “has never known a normal school year,” something she says “breaks my heart.”
Public school students in Washington, as well as in several counties in Virginia and Maryland, are still required to wear masks all day.
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