Diocese of Peoria’s schools comply with state’s mask and vaccination mandates

A masked and well-distanced choir provided music for the Mass of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign on Aug. 31. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Wiillems)

Administrators, faculty, staff and volunteers in the 42 Catholic schools of the Diocese of Peoria have been asked to comply with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order about masking in indoor public places and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of diocesan schools, said she has been directed by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka to make certain this takes place. She and Jerry Sanderson, associate superintendent, met with the Catholic school principals via Zoom on Sept. 3 to discuss the executive order and offer guidance and support.

Saying that the bishops had asked school personnel to be vaccinated “for the sake of the common good and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and its variants,” Weiss added that they would be allowed to apply for an exemption to vaccination based upon medical contraindication or a “sincerely held religious belief.” Those who are not vaccinated must submit to weekly COVID-19 testing, however.

“What was hoped to have been a peaceful start to a new school year has resulted in change, once again, as the pandemic still rages.” — Dr. Sharon Weiss, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools

According to the guidelines established in the executive order and by the bishops, if school personnel or volunteers choose not to be vaccinated or apply for an exemption, they will no longer be employed at diocesan schools or allowed to volunteer.

On Sept. 3, Gov. Pritzker extended the deadline to be vaccinated from Sept. 5 to Sept. 19.

The mandate applies to all schools, public and non-public, as well as those in health care.

During the Zoom meetings, various scenarios were discussed, including sports participation.

“What was hoped to have been a peaceful start to a new school year has resulted in change, once again, as the pandemic still rages,” Weiss told The Catholic Post.

“Our schools, and most definitely our students, are resilient and continue to demonstrate the joy of returning to in-person instruction while learning within caring classrooms permeated with the mission of Catholic education in which Jesus Christ is known, loved and served,” she said.

As of Aug. 28, high positivity rates in two diocesan schools made it necessary to go to remote learning only. One returned to in-person instruction on Sept. 7, while the other was due to return on Sept. 13.

In the meantime, deep cleaning was to take place to mitigate any further spread of the COVID-19 virus.

A handful of other schools reported positivity rates among students and teachers, with some closing entire classrooms to allow for testing, contact tracing and quarantining.

Weiss said whenever a school or classroom closes, remote learning is to be made available to the students.

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