Catholic prep school keeps unvaccinated kids behind plastic barriers at lunch

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A group of parents and alumni has called on a top Catholic prep school in Boston to stop treating unvaccinated students as “potential biohazards” by isolating them from vaccinated students at lunch time behind plastic barriers and barring them from participating in sports.

The COVID-19 measures at Boston College High School go beyond those of other Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston and public schools in the state. The lunch time policy also contradicts guidance from the U.S. Centers on Disease and Prevention (CDC), which discourages schools from separating students based on their vaccination status.

But the Jesuit-run, all-male prep school, one of the top academic and athletic schools in the state, says the measures are necessary to ensure that students can continue to attend classes in person.

Some 98% of the school's 1,430 students in grades 7 through 12 are vaccinated, said Colleen Carter, the school’s vice president for external relations, which means that only about two dozen or so students are unvaccinated.

Carter told CNA that the clear Plexiglas dividers during lunch are meant “to keep everyone — regardless of vaccination status — as safe as possible.”

Unvaccinated students who violate the policy could be sent home and be subject to a meeting with their parents and a school official, the policy states.

The policy says the rules are consistent with Jesuit values of “relationship and care,” adding that students and adults do best when they are “valued, cared for, and respected.” But not all parents see it that way.

Two dozen parents and alumni signed a petition in October calling on the school’s board of trustees to rescind the policy, arguing that “the social-emotional, physical, and intellectual needs of unvaccinated students at BC High are being wholly denied and neglected.”

“We believe that it is short-sighted and developmentally harmful to create a school environment in which students regard classmates as potential biohazards, and where teachers and staff are emboldened to openly single boys out in service of these excessive separation measures,” the petition states.

“It is our sincere intention and prayer that BC High not join those in history who have acted in morally reprehensible ways under the guise of virtue and in the name of public good,” the petition states.

Parents who signed the petition declined to comment on the record to CNA.

Months after the petition was submitted to the trustees, the policy remains in place.

“We are remarkably proud of the policies and procedures we have put into place to ensure our community remains safe and healthy and that our students continue to have the opportunity to learn in an in-person environment,” Carter told CNA.

In addition to being separated from their vaccinated peers at lunch time, unvaccinated students are barred from participating in any co-curricular activities, which includes sports.

“This policy, which remains in place today, has served us well,” Carter said. “We are not aware of any transmission on campus or among our teams this fall.”

The petition said that lunch segregation and denying unvaccinated students the ability to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities is “a practice without scientific justification.”

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The petition says that available vaccines cannot prevent infection or transmission of COVID-19, while noting that “the only person who can benefit from the vaccination is the vaccinated individual. It protects no one else!”

The petition states that the school's policy also conflicts with guidance from the CDC.

"Cohorting people who are fully vaccinated and people who are not fully vaccinated into separate cohorts is not recommended. It is a school’s responsibility to ensure that cohorting is done in an equitable manner that does not perpetuate academic, racial, or other tracking," the CDC states.

Thomas W. Carroll, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, told CNA that the archdiocese’s policy does not require students to be separated at lunch based on vaccination status, nor does it require vaccination for participation in sports or extracurricular activities. However, the archdiocese’s protocols don’t apply to school’s run by religious orders, he added. 

Carroll said he is not aware of any other Catholic school in the archdiocese that has adopted Boston College High School’s approach to mandated vaccines.

Unvaccinated students are allowed to partake in sports in the state of Massachusetts. The Cambridge Public School system, a school system in Greater Boston, also voted for the 2021-2022 school year to exclude unvaccinated students from sports and extracurricular activities. 

The petition maintains the school's policy runs counter to guidance from the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), whose directors include Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston.

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"If any institution mandates COVID-19 vaccination, the NCBC strongly urges robust, transparent, and readily accessible exemptions for medical, religious, and conscience reasons,” according to statement issued by the NCBC on July 2, 2021.

“Catholic institutions, in particular, should respect the decisions of people to decline the use of vaccines dependent on abortion-derived cell lines," the NCBC states.

The petition maintains that the school’s COVID-19 measures have led some parents to vaccinate their students “against their better judgment and, worse, against their conscience.”

“We reject any notion of ‘protection’ for students and staff that trades dignity for discrimination,” the petition states.

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