Officials with the Archdiocese of Boston say Catholic schools under its control will not be allowed to require vaccinated people to wear a mask or force families to get vaccinated. The Archdiocese said it would allow each school to determine its own mask policy for those who are not vaccinated.
The school system's superintendent, Thomas Carroll, is calling mask and vaccine mandates "counter productive." (Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended all students over 2 years old, along with staff, wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. CDC officials also recommend everyone wear masks in schools.)
"If you want to get more people vaccinated, telling them you’re going to slap a mask on them when they don’t need to after they’re vaccinated is not the way to encourage people to be vaccinated," said Carroll.
The Archdiocese is encouraging people to get vaccinated, however. Carroll says he's hoping that allowing people who are vaccinated to go mask-less in school will be a good incentive to make an appointment. According to Carroll, the majority of diocesan teachers have received the vaccine, as has Carroll himself and his family.
Last year, the Archdiocese of Boston did have a mask mandate, as well as other system-wide COVID-19 mitigation policies. This coming school year, individual Catholic schools will have more discretion to make their own policies. The only rules the schools must follow are that they don't require that vaccinated people wear masks and that they don't require that students and staff get vaccinated.
"This year we’re just as focused on health outcomes [as last year]," he said. "And so if the data changes or the science changes then we’ll be the first to change."
Last school year, Diocesan schools saw a spike in enrollment because the school system offered full-time in-person learning at a time when most public schools in the area were only offering hybrid or remote learning models. The school system's enrollment surged by more than 4,000 kids. That increase was a stark contrast to the steady enrollment decline that Catholic schools across the country had been seeing since the 1960s.
While Carroll doesn't have precise enrollment numbers just yet for the 2021-2022 school year, he recently told the National Catholic Register that he is expecting much of last year's increase to stick around.
The Archdiocese's decision to not require masks or vaccinations in its K-12 schools is a break from policies being implemented in several major Catholic colleges, like Boston College. In July, officials there announced that all students and staff members must be vaccinated if they want to return to campus in the fall. The school joined more than two dozen other Catholic colleges who instituted similar policies such as Notre Dame, Georgetown and Fordham.
Pope Francis has received the vaccine, and he's told fellow Catholics that they have a moral obligation to get it too.
The health care ethicist for the Archdiocese of Boston, M.C. Sullivan, said the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines “do not contain any immorally illicit material.”