The Archdiocese of Philadelphia will make masks optional in all suburban Catholic schools effective Feb. 28, but not at its schools within the city of Philadelphia, a letter to parents and guardians and staff has announced.
The letter was posted on the Archdiocese’s website Friday. The lifting of the masking requirement will apply to students and staff at the Archdiocese’s eight high schools across Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties and more than 50 regional and parish elementary and special education schools. Overall, the Archdiocese has 122 schools across the five counties.
Within the city of Philadelphia, the Archdiocese said it will continue to follow current guidance from the city Department of Public Health.
The joint letter from administrators of the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education’s elementary and secondary divisions, as well as the Faith and the Future Foundation, cited “a significant drop in the number [of] positive cases within our school communities over the last two weeks” as a reason for its policy change.
“Now, as positive case numbers are declining and the data regarding cloth masks has been updated, we are looking at steps to adjust our plan slowly in order to return to a more traditional school environment while keeping children safe,” the letter said.
Masks will still be required on buses because of federal law, as well as for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 five days after they return to school. Other COVID protocols such as social distancing, increased ventilation, and enhanced cleaning will remain in place, though the letter said the Catholic school officials could consider reducing those depending on how the numbers look in the future.
The letter recommended that unvaccinated individuals, those with medical conditions, and those who wished to wear masks continue doing so.
“We continue, in the strongest possible terms, to encourage all students and staff to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine and booster,” the letter added.
Despite the decline in cases in Archdiocesan schools, the prevalence of COVID-19 in the five-county region it serves remains high, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health data.
“Implementation of a mask-optional policy at the end of this month allows additional time for cases to decline in the general population, which will help us prevent spread in our schools,” the Archdiocese wrote.
“Our goal is to continue providing educational services at every level in an uninterrupted fashion while maintaining a safe environment for all members of every school community.”
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