Tag: consequences

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Yes, Gov. Youngkin—and suffering the consequences

Community writer A Siegel wrote a wonderful piece on this incident, Youngkin’s very bad last week, and the first month of his governorship here. I wanted to pivot to something else: Currently, seven Virginia school districts have kept mask-wearing in place, with Arlington and Alexandria making up the largest districts in the state.

Catholic Schools in Virginia choose to follow EO2

Virginia is divided into two Catholic dioceses: the Diocese of Arlington (where Alexandria is located) and the Diocese of Richmond. Both decided to follow EO2 for the Catholic schools in Virginia. I live in the Diocese of Arlington and early on asked the diocese how it went about their decision-making process since they seemed to be claiming the governor’s executive order had “primacy” when legally, state law SB 1303 had primacy and local authority resided in the school board. Bill Bolling, former lieutenant governor of Virginia, argued that here. It’s also what the Arlington court judge ruled in the stay of the mask mandate on Friday.

Here’s the rationale the Diocese of Arlington provided in the Catholic Herald: “Throughout the pandemic, our Catholic schools have been directed to follow state and local public health directives. Where those have been in conflict, the state requirement has primacy. Therefore, Diocesan direction to our schools is to continue following local public health guidance, without, mask, however, violating the rights of parents as described in Executive Order 2.”

Full disclosure: I am a Catholic and a parent of a student (who goes to public school). I also used to work for the Arlington Diocese, so I am familiar with rolling out diocesan policy to parents and families. I found this statement hard to parse. I was further disappointed to find that the Arlington Diocese website did not have a place where people could read a full statement regarding its stance on masking policy, EO2, or its implementation in schools and religious education programs at the parish level.

Instead, the Office of Faith Formation delegated the administration of this task to school principals and pastors for their parishes. What this meant was simply a parent option form that parents were asked to complete indicating the name, age, and grade level of their child(ren), and whether they would wear a mask or not. There was some helpful language saying that there was no judgment or adverse action either way, and that the school or parish would expect students, staff, and volunteers to not judge a person or mistreat them one way or the other.

The parish form I received had some interesting details: Filling out the form itself was optional, which I took to mean a child could go to school unmasked and unchallenged even if a form had not been completed. The form itself would, for all practical purposes, simply be used to help in the event of contact tracing, which I took to mean that there was some—even if it was low-level—acknowledgment that not wearing masks could have health consequences.

I pointed out as much in my correspondence to Kevin Schweers at the Catholic Herald, who then forwarded my questions and concerns to the Office of Communications for the Arlington Diocese. They acknowledged that they received my questions and concerns, but forwarded them to Amber Roseboom, their director of media relations, who has yet to get back to me. This all began on Jan. 25.

I pointed out that many parents saw mask-wearing as part of what enabled schools to open in the first place, and taking that piece of policy out destabilizes the layered approach to mitigation recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Virginia Department of Public Health. It puts at risk the institutions and programs in which many people participate and public health for all who come in contact with them.

The Arlington Diocese has roughly 18,000 students. This is dwarfed by the Loudoun County Public School system of 80,000 students even though geographically, that county is only part of the Arlington Diocese. However, I know from the parish work I’ve done here that a majority of the church-going families send their children to public schools. But whether we send our children to public or Catholic schools, we cross paths all the time out in the world.

We deserve better accountability and explanation as to why our bishops so easily supported an executive order and selective reading of what SB 1303 meant by following CDC guidelines for a layered approach to mitigation by omitting the proven effectiveness of mask-wearing. 

Every person who has substantial contact with children in the Arlington Diocese is required to take a course on a yearly basis entitled “Protecting God’s Children.” This was in response to child abuse cases in the church to help assure families that churches and schools were safe places and that all involved with children’s well-being knew the signs of abuse or inappropriate behavior, how to report it, and how to create safe spaces in schools and parishes.

It baffles me that an institution so serious about predation would be swayed by a slogan like “parent choice,” as if upholding that value were a realistic approach to a pandemic. Or that it would so quickly place on children a burden of unintended consequences and risks that the greater public would have to bear.

I disagree with this decision. 

What can you do?

Please sign this petition to reinstate masks in the Arlington Catholic Schools.

You may say to yourself, “I’m not Catholic,” or “I don’t send my kids to Catholic schools.” True, but like I said, these schools interact with families, employ staff, and have volunteers, all of whom interact with everyone else around them in our locality as they should. And we want to keep everyone safe.

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