BLOOMINGTON — Catholic schools in the Twin Cities will not require their students and employees to wear masks or receive a COVID-19 vaccination when they return to classrooms this fall.
Both measures are among a set of guidelines released Wednesday by the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and the Office of Catholic Schools, directing administrators at its 42 schools on how to prepare for the 2021-22 academic year.
Those schools include four in the Bloomington-Normal area: Central Catholic High School, Corpus Christie Catholic School, Epiphany Catholic School and St. Mary's Catholic School.
The diocesan guidelines direct parents and guardians to decide whether their children should wear a face covering or get vaccinated, if eligible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people over the age of 12 receive a coronavirus inoculation.
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CDOP Superintendent of Schools Sharon Weiss in an email confirmed that the diocese will not require its more than 9,600 employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
She said the guidelines were developed in anticipation of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order regarding masks for schools expiring on Saturday.
Weiss also said the guidelines mirror CDC recommendations published July 9 that indicate staff and students who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks inside school buildings, if local conditions do not indicate an increase in community transmission levels.
But if local coronavirus case levels begin to rise again, Weiss said individual schools could implement a mask mandate for all of its students and employees — vaccinated or unvaccinated — after receiving approval from the diocese.
"If there is an outbreak in the school or local community, and the public health (department) recommends masking to mitigate transmission, we would certainly want our schools to cooperate in order to contain the virus and its variants," Weiss said.
They also come as schools prepare to return to in-person instruction, after a resolution passed by the Illinois State Board of Education in May indicated all schools in the state will have in-person learning for all.
Diocesan schools will only offer in-person instruction, according to the guidelines, unless local conditions call for a switch to remote learning.
The schools will require students to wear masks on school buses, as they are required on all public transportation.
Scott Vogel, director of admissions and marketing at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, said parents and faculty have so far welcomed the new guidelines.
"Just knowing how difficult of a year it was last year, with remote learning, my assumption is that they will be excited about this year," Vogel told The Pantagraph. "I think it will energize faculty, that getting back to normal and as close to traditional learning as possible."
Vogel said the diocese's policies could have a positive impact on enrollment, wherein parents see the masking and vaccination choice as an incentive to enroll their child at a local Catholic school.
"It's definitely a factor in people's decision of where their kids come to school," Vogel said. "What is that school's policy, how can a child best learn, I think all those factors are taken into account."
Vogel said CCHS last year saw eight students transfer to the school "because of the way we were learning."
The school, which enrolls around 350 students, plans to return to a normal schedule this year where class and lunch times aren't shortened and students can arrive to campus earlier.
Vogel added that administrators are still developing measures like asking faculty and students for proof of vaccination and what that process might look like, if needed in the future. Parents can expect full guidelines in the next week or two.
"All of these policies are based on assumption that things stay the same," Vogel said. "But if we’re going to be open as a school and be back to pre-COVID learning as possible, we want everyone to feel comfortable being back here."
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Contact Timothy Eggert at (309) 820-3276. Follow him on Twitter: @TimothyMEggert