Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore will no longer require the wearing of face coverings beginning Monday, except at schools in jurisdictions where indoor masking is mandated.
Archdiocesan chancellor James Sellinger and Superintendent Donna Hargens announced the plan to ease masking requirements in a letter Friday that was published by the Catholic Review. Some Catholic schools in Maryland operate independent from the Archdiocese and maintain their own policies on masking.
“This policy change comes at a time when our region is witnessing a significant decline in COVID transmission rates from the Omicron variant that emerged in November and resulted in the highest daily case rate since the beginning of the pandemic,” the letter states.
The policy applies to all individuals including students, visitors and employees, regardless of vaccination status. Parents will decide whether their student will wear a mask in school, according to a statement from the Archdiocese.
Masks are required for all individuals while on transportation, including public and private school buses and vans. School buses are subject to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order requiring masks on public transportation, which was issued in January of 2021, the Archdiocese said.
Archdiocesan leaders said they consulted with governmental and public health advisors, including Robert Redfield, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who now serves as a public health advisor to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Redfield is a parishioner of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland, according to the Catholic Review.
“The movement to parental choice masking is about a parent’s personal accountability and responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their children,” Sellinger and Hargens stated in the letter.
The Evening Sun
The policy shift comes as Hogan put pressure this week on the State Board of Education to lift its emergency regulation requiring masking in schools.
The State Board of Education approved an emergency regulation in December that creates an “off ramp” for public school systems to allow students to go without masks. Mandates may be lifted if a county’s community spread of COVID-19 is moderate or if vaccination rates are above 80% in the school or the surrounding community.
The board regularly evaluates the need for such a regulation during its monthly meetings, the next of which is scheduled for Feb. 22.
Hogan took to Twitter Friday to commend the Archdiocese for updating its masking guidance.
State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury on Friday released his own response to the governor’s stance, calling the regulations “necessary in the face of high community spread, the lack of a vaccine for children under the age of 12, limited testing opportunities, and the emergence of the omicron variant, all experienced during the first part of the 21-22 school year.”
“The face covering requirement helped keep all of our schools open through the fall — as many schools and entire districts closed around the country — and it helped our school systems weather the omicron surge and preserve in-person learning for the vast majority of our students,” Choudhury said. “We continue to emerge from the pandemic and transition to an environment that now includes readily available vaccines for school-aged children, ample testing opportunities, and a greater depth of understanding of Covid-19 and its impact.”
Choudhury said he looks forward to working with the State Board of Education at its upcoming meeting to “reassess the emergency regulations and explore whether there is continual need for a statewide face covering requirement.”