St. Augustine diocese reverses mask mandate at Catholic schools

Mask school Halfpoint

Masks will now be optional at Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Augustine this upcoming school year, as the diocese on July 30 scrapped its mask mandate due to a state order.

A July 30 letter from Deacon Scott Conway, the superintendent of schools for the diocese, stated that Gov. Ron Desantis’ (R) Executive Order (21-175) Ensuring the Parents’ Freedom to Choose -- Masks In Schools “gives some clear guidance to schools about students and masks.”

“After careful review of the Executive Order and consultation with our advisors, the bishop has approved the following update to our policies for the schools of the Diocese of St. Augustine,” he continued. 

Masks, said Conway, would be optional for students but still “[h]ighly recommended during this time of high COVID positivity rate.” All visitors to the district’s schools will be required to wear masks. Vaccinations will still be optional but “highly encouraged,” said Conway, adding that any cases of COVID-19 at schools would be reported to both Florida health authorities as well as to families of students. 

“As I said in my most recent letter, let us continue to pray for one another and for the end of this pandemic,” said Conway. 

Previously, the diocese was set to mandate masks at school “only because of the very high positivity rate that is happening within the counties of our diocese.” Some of the counties in the diocese’s territory are reporting positivity rates as high as 28%. 

Conway said that the diocese has been “working around the clock” for a safe opening to school, and one that also complies with Florida law. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has been opposed to mask mandates for children over the past several months. He was among the first governors to relax COVID-19 restrictions. 

"The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day," DeSantis said in a statement after signing the executive order. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control now recommends universal indoor masking at K-12 schools, regardless of the vaccination status of teachers, staff, students, and visitors.

"Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children," DeSantis said. 

The World Health Organization advises that children between the ages of six and 11 should wear masks only in certain circumstances. Such a masking policy should be based on several factors, including the scope of community virus transmission, adult supervision, and the “[p]otential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development, in consultation with teachers, parents/caregivers and/or medical providers.”

The WHO says that children age 12 and over, who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, should be subject to the same masking requirements as adults.

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