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Archdiocese eases mask rules in schools

Masks will be optional for vaccinated seventh and eighth graders, weekly testing for athletes discontinued

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MIAMI | One day after announcing an easing of mask rules at Mass, the Archdiocese of Miami announced a similar easing of mask rules in South Florida’s Catholic schools.

In a letter sent to school parents at the conclusion of classes Oct. 29, 2021, Superintendent of Schools Jim Rigg announced that, effective Nov. 8, 2021, masks will be optional for fully vaccinated students and teachers in grades seven and eight who can attest to their vaccination status.

Until now, masks had been required for all teachers and students in elementary schools, regardless of vaccination status. Vaccinated teachers in grade six and lower will continue to be required to wear masks, as children in their classrooms are not yet eligible for vaccination. 

In high schools, the weekly COVID testing for students in athletic teams will end Nov. 1, 2021. Those who were vaccinated, or within 90 days of a documented COVID infection, could opt out of the testing.

“A number of positive cases were detected by that testing protocol,” said Sister Elizabeth Worley, archdiocesan chancellor for administration. “However, the transmission rate in the community is low enough that we can now omit that exercise.”

Masks will continue to be required for high school teachers and students who are not vaccinated, and remain optional for those who show proof of vaccination. Masks continue to be optional outdoors for everyone in elementary and secondary schools.

Social distancing and quarantine requirements for those traveling out of state or out of the country, or those who experience “a close contact” with a COVID-positive individual, or test positive for COVID, remain as outlined in the COVID protocol issued Aug. 15, 2021.

All “essential visitors and volunteers” in schools, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks indoors. Children under two years of age do not need to mask.

The updated requirements apply to students and faculty in parish schools as well as those involved in “any activity in the parish church,” the updated guidance states.

“Please note that, while this is good news, it is important that COVID-related protocols remain in our Catholic schools for the protection of all students and employees,” Rigg wrote in his letter to parents. “These protocols include such practices as masking for unvaccinated individuals, social distancing, etc. Likewise, we will continue to closely monitor COVID trends and may need to reintroduce more restrictive practices if trends worsen.

“Perhaps most crucially,” he added, “it is very important that all eligible individuals receive a vaccine. While vaccinations are not required for attendance or employment at a Catholic school, we highly encourage you to receive a vaccination if you have not already done so. We anticipate that vaccines will be available for children as young as 5 years old in the coming days.”

Rigg cited dropping rates of COVID-19 infections in South Florida, as Archbishop Thomas Wenski had done the day before in his letter to archdiocesan pastors. He also warned that “if the (COVID) numbers go in the opposite direction, we may have to reinstate some of these (older) protocols.”

"We continue to encourage all to be vaccinated as this offers the best way of putting this pandemic behind us,” the archbishop wrote.

Editor's note: Just as the superintendent's letter was released, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it had given emergency approval for kid-size doses of the Pfeizer vaccine to be administered to children ages 5-11. The vaccinations could begin as early as the first week of November.

READ THE GUIDANCE

  • Click here or on the image above to read or download Superintendent Jim Rigg’s letter to parents.
  • Click here to read or download the updated guidance for elementary schools.
  • Click here to read or download the updated guidance for high schools.