Masking is now optional in Catholic schools of the Diocese of Peoria

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka helped Costa Catholic Academy in Galesburg celebrate Catholic Schools Week with a visit on Feb. 4 that included the First Friday Holy Hour followed by classroom visits. Here he is pictured with second -graders in the classroom of Stefanie Cross. Three days later, the diocese announced it was updating its policy to make mask wearing optional in its Catholic schools. (Provided photo)

As of Feb. 8, masking is optional in the elementary and secondary schools of the Diocese of Peoria. The decision was made after broad consultation and communicated to diocesan school communities by the Office of Catholic Schools on Feb. 7.

The updated policy applies to school personnel, as well as students. (See the accompanying statement below.)

Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of diocesan schools, said the Dioceses of Belleville, Rockford and Springfield had already made masking optional in their schools. In gathering information, she had more than one discussion with them and school leaders in the Diocese of Joliet and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

She also consulted the Catholic Conference of Illinois, Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, Msgr. Philip Halfacre, vicar general, and Patricia Gibson, diocesan attorney. In addition, calls were made to local school superintendents, the Regional Office of Education, and the Peoria City/County Health Department.

“In essence, it was a study of everything,” Weiss told The Catholic Post.

On Feb. 7, the Diocese of Joliet revised its policy for Catholic schools and religious education programs from “masks required” to “masks recommended.”

Weiss said the Archdiocese of Chicago had not announced a decision as of Feb. 7.

CARE MUST CONTINUE

Before classes started last August, the Office of Catholic Schools had issued a statement announcing that parents would make the decision on whether or not their children would wear masks in their parish schools and diocesan high schools during the 2021-22 academic year. The same applied to receiving vaccinations and booster shots.

The goal was to implement the “layered prevention strategies” recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that included proper social and physical distancing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, and staying home when sick, among other things.

At the time, Weiss noted that the Health Department had said the best way to mitigate the coronavirus is with masks. “The rationale is for the guidelines (released July 21) is to allow parents to be parents and make the decisions for their children.”

Those plans changed very soon after Gov. JB Pritzker issued a universal mask mandate on Aug. 4. Noncompliance wasn’t an option since schools recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education could have their recognition removed.

All of the diocesan schools are recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education.

While the guidelines on masking have been updated, now is not the time to relax when it comes to COVID-19, according to the Feb. 7 statement from the Office of Catholic Schools.

“It remains our fervent hope that all people continue to voluntarily receive the vaccines and boosters; (and) make every effort to mitigate the spread of the virus by utilizing masks, observing social distancing, continuing to disinfect rooms, and following good health practices,” the statement said.

“Again, while lifting the mask mandate for our students at this time, it remains a priority to provide a safe environment for students, faculty and staff,” the statement continued, adding that diocesan authorities would be monitoring the situation and responding accordingly.

STATEMENT: “WEARING OF MASKS IN OUR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS” 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the text of the statement, “Wearing of Masks in our Catholic Schools,” that was sent to diocesan school communities by the Office of Catholic Schools. It was dated Feb. 7:

After due consideration and in a review of the information gathered today, elementary and secondary schools in the Diocese of Peoria are directed to institute optional masking, effective February 8, 2022.

The offering of a Catholic Education, especially in-person learning, is a great blessing to our local Church and the wider community. We have successfully navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic because of the commitment, generosity, and adaptability of our principals, teachers, pastors, and the Office of Catholic Schools. We must remember that the unprecedented reality of living through a global pandemic presents many difficulties which we need to face together.

To that end, it remains our fervent hope that all people continue to voluntarily receive the vaccines and boosters; make every effort to mitigate the spread of the virus by utilizing masks, observing social distancing, continuing to disinfect rooms, and following good health practices. We continue to pray for an end to this health crisis: for those who are caring for the sick; for those who are working in difficult situations; and for a true spirit of fraternity among all people.

Again, while lifting the mask mandate for our students at this time, it remains a priority to provide a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff. We will continue to monitor the situation and respond accordingly, as warranted.

 

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