Archdiocese Caves, Suburban Catholic Schools To Go Mask Optional

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CHICAGO — Parents received an email from the superintendent of Catholic schools that classrooms would become “mask optional” after a public outcry. The order came down just before midnight Tuesday, hours after a suburban Catholic school principal was placed on leave for defying the state’s mask mandate.

Supt. Greg Richmond told parents that the Office of Catholic Schools had determined that coronavirus cases in the communities it serves are low enough to make masks optional in suburban Catholic schools in Cook and Lake County.

“Currently, we have no classrooms in quarantine anywhere in our Archdiocese, and we have no schools that have more than 3% of their students currently testing positive. In fact, nearly half of our schools are reporting no cases at all. This has been a dramatic drop within the past few weeks,” Richmond said.

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>>> Hundreds Rally In Support Of Principal For Defying Mask Mandate

Beginning Thursday, Feb. 10, Catholic elementary schools in Lake County and most of suburban Cook County will become mask optional. The order does not apply to the City of Chicago, Oak Park or Skokie because they have their own municipal health departments.

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Earlier this week, following a downstate judge’s ruling blocking Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s school mask mandate after being sued by 150 public school districts, the Archdiocese of Chicago said COVID-19 cases in Catholic schools were still higher than on any single day last fall. The ruling is currently being appealed by the Illinois Attorney General.

All other COVID protocols will continue to be in place in schools where masks are optional.

“[S]tudents coming out of isolation and quarantine must wear a mask on Days 6 through 10. In addition, we will continue monitoring cases in our schools closely and, if we see significant increases in a classroom or an entire school, we may temporarily return to masks until those numbers go back down.”

The archdiocese is giving principals, teachers, and staff time to prepare before the mask optional order takes effect Thursday. Pritzker is also preparing to reveal his indoor mask exit plan later this week.

Staff members and students who wish to continue wearing a mask in school are encouraged to do so, however, an N95 mask is recommended. The archdiocese also encourages those age 5 and up, to get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster.

“We also understand that some school communities as a whole may feel differently about the change to a mask-optional environment,” Richmond said. “For those communities, we will work with their principals to address the interests of their schools.”

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