As New Jersey moves towards lifting its long-standing statewide mask mandates inside schools and childcare facilities, Catholic schools and parish programs in the Diocese prepare to follow suit.

A memo from the Diocese’s Superintendent of Catholic Schools superintendent, Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, was sent Feb. 10 to all Catholic school administrators in the Diocese of Trenton.  It stated:

“In accordance with the new direction from the Governor’s Office regarding Executive Order 280, the Diocese of Trenton is stating the following as it pertains to the Catholic schools in the Diocese.

“As of March 7, 2022, masks on employed adults are optional,” the memo continued. “This includes teaching staffs, members of administration and non-contract employees. Masks on children are optional as well.  If a parent deems a mask is significant to the safety of their respective child(ren) they are encouraged to have their child(ren) wear a mask within the school.  At the local school level, the principal, working with their pastor, can make the determination to continue masking based on current health concerns within their school.”

The policy changes came through as the cases of COVID-19 had been on a downward trend since peaking Jan. 10. As of publication, rates of transmission dropped to .5 (below one means an infected person spreads to less than one other individual), and hospital admissions also experienced a steep decline.

More information can be found HERE.

Programs at the diocesan and parish level, however, may continue with other mitigation measures for the time being. A separate memo went out Feb. 15 to pastors, parish catechetical leaders and youth ministers of the Diocese from Denise Contino, director of catechisis, and Dan Waddington, director of youth and young adult ministries. The memo in full can be read HERE.

“Religious education and youth ministry programs will continue to implement strategies to prevent the spread of COVID in the absence of universal masking,” the memo noted. “These are local decisions, made at the parish level.”

Locally, they added, parishes may “reserve the right to require masks if conditions warrant it, in conjunction with discussions with local health officials … [and will] comply with health department guidance regarding masking after quarantine. 

“Should a health situation – as determined by the local health department authorities – arise for which the wearing of a mask is deemed essential for the parish Religious Education population or staff/volunteers to engage safely and effectively at the parish, then the wearing of a mask will be reintroduced,” the memo concluded.

Stressing the need for compassion and understanding in the face of masking options, Dr. Schmidt wrote to Catholic school leaders, “Harassment or ridicule of individuals due to their choice regarding masks will not be tolerated. Parents who want their child(ren) to wear a mask will need to communicate to their child(ren) the expectations regarding mask use in the parish.”

Parents must continue to make prudent decisions about children’s health and the health of their communities, keeping children home if they are sick or have COVID-like symptoms, or if required to quarantine due to close contact. Those experiencing COVID-like symptoms will be sent home.

“Individuals are expected to comply with a mask mandate if one is imposed by any venue, used by the parish for an event or trip and for transportation provided that has a mask mandate,” Dr. Schmidt continued. This includes continuation of mask-wearing on school buses.

“The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration believe that vaccines are safe, effective and accessible,” he emphasized. “In the absence of universal masking, this is the strongest line of defense against COVID.”

Close contacts with COVID-infected persons will continue to follow guidelines of local health departments, with additional protocols in place to allow students to return to programs – which could include, Dr. Schmidt pointed out, re-masking for a duration of time upon returning, testing to stay or return, and/or quarantining for a period.