Washington archdiocese drops school mask requirement in DC

Joe Bukuras   By Joe Bukuras for CNA


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Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2022 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Masks are no longer mandatory at Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., the Archdiocese of Washington announced Wednesday.

The move came in response to the city’s health department’s decision March 8 ending an indoor mask mandate at schools.

Superintendent of Catholic schools Kelly Branaman said in a March 9 statement that the transition to drop masks will occur between March 9 and March 14 “depending on the needs of each school’s leaders to prepare.”

Because the archdiocese has schools located both inside and outside the city, it was able to lift the mask mandate in its Maryland schools in February.

A day before the health department released its new guidance, two parents with children in the archdiocesan school system brought a lawsuit against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser alleging that the mandate posed an unfair burden on religious schools.

That suit is moving forward despite the indoor mask mandate being lifted.

One of the parents in the lawsuit, Sheila Dugan, said in a March 8 press release from Alliance Defending Freedom that she has seen “how much stress and discomfort children have faced over the last two years.”

“There’s no excuse for freeing bars and strip clubs from mask mandates while forcing my kindergartner to wear a mask to read, pray, and play dodgeball,” she added. “As a Catholic, I’m obligated to protect my children from harm; that’s why we filed this lawsuit.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Dugan and the other plaintiff, Matthew Johnson, in the suit. The lawsuit, Dugan v. Bowser, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

In the same press release from ADF, Senior Counsel Matt Bowman called Bowser’s mandate unconstitutional.

“It’s legally baseless to say that private schools can’t make their own decisions regarding masks while nearly all other private entities can,” he added. “The mayor’s actions are unfairly punishing these schools.”

Bowman said that in most counties and public schools, mask mandates are already lifted, while urging Bowser to “repeal her illegal mandate on religious schools immediately.”

Ryan Tucker, Senior Counsel for ADF, told CNA in an interview March 8 that the mask mandate in schools is illogical given that children are not forced to wear masks during most other activities.

Tucker said that the District grants mask exemptions to a variety of different entities within its bounds and therefore “cannot deny the same right to religious schools.”

“Mayor Bowser’s rule makes no sense—children are free to go mask free to any activity in the city except going to school,” he said. “If it is safe for thousands of people to attend a concert without a mask, surely it is safe for a child to read, pray, and play dodgeball without a mask.”

There are 90 schools in the Archdiocese of Washington serving more than 24,000 students throughout the District of Columbia and five counties in Maryland

Although the health department made masks optional for schools, the Chancellor of D.C.’s public schools, Lewis D. Ferebee, tweeted that masks would still be required indoors at all the city’s public schools for students, staff, and visitors.

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