The Archdiocese of Chicago has announced that masks will be optional at many suburban Catholic schools beginning Thursday, but not in Chicago, Evanston or Oak Park where local health departments still require them.
The announcement covering Lake County and suburban Cook County was made late Tuesday evening in an email to Catholic school families.
It was quite a juxtaposition to a scene that unfolded earlier Tuesday when the principal at an Evergreen Park Catholic school was reportedly put on leave for unilaterally declaring masks optional at his school.
The principal’s decision defied the archdiocese’s stance — if only for a few hours.
Though his decision ultimately proved to be in line with the archdiocese’s mindset, M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius, principal of Queen of Martyrs Catholic School told parents in a Facebook post that he expected “swift retribution.”
An archdiocese spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning regarding Mathius.
Greg Richmond, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese, informed Catholic school families of the shift to optional masks in an email.
“In Lake County and most of suburban Cook County, masks will be optional beginning this Thursday, February 10 (excluding Oak Park and Evanston). We are waiting to implement this for a day in order to give our principals, teachers, and staff time to prepare,” he said.
“Currently, we have no classrooms in quarantine anywhere in our Archdiocese and we have no schools that have more than 3% of their students currently testing positive. In fact, nearly half of our schools are reporting no cases at all. This has been a dramatic drop within the past few weeks,” he said.
“Any staff member or student who wishes to continue to wear a mask in school is encouraged to do so,” he said.
“We will continue monitoring cases in our schools closely and, if we see significant increases in a classroom or an entire school, we may temporarily return to masks until those numbers go back down.
Richmond also left room for schools that might decide as a community to keep the their mask rules in place.
“We also understand that some school communities as a whole may feel differently about the change to a mask-optional environment. For those communities, we will work with their principals to address the interests of their schools,” he said.
The evolving issue of masks in schools comes as a downstate judge on Friday temporarily lifted Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order mandating all Illinois districts require masks in schools. Attorney General Kwame Raoul has filed a motion to halt enforcement of the judge’s temporary restraining order.
Chicago Public Schools immediately responded saying it would continue to require them and other COVID-19 protocols, as did the Archdiocese.
But some suburban districts, including Mount Prospect School District 57, made masks optional this week, WBEZ reported.