Local Catholic dioceses call for unity in divisive mask issue

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Youngstown Diocese issued a letter to parents Wednesday calling for patience and unity, and the Erie Diocese offered their recommendations, too, when it comes to wearing masks in school.

Bishop David Bonnar wrote that he issued a mask mandate in schools in accordance with recommendations from local and state health officials and to help keep students in class.

“In order to ensure as best as possible, the beginning of a school year without interruption and given the rising numbers of the Delta Virus which we have been told is even more aggressive than Covid-19, coupled with the fact that many of our children are unvaccinated, especially those 12 and under through no fault of their own, I made a decision after much prayer and consultation with the Chief Health Official for the State of Ohio, Doctor Bruce Vanderhoff, M.D., our Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Mrs. Mary Fiala, and members of my Senior Staff to temporarily enforce the wearing of masks inside our schools in certain situations,” Bishop Bonnar wrote.

The bishop said the mask policy will be re-evaluated in mid-September.

“The decision in place is temporary and made in the best interest of our students and teachers so as to have as much as possible a year without interruption,” Bishop Bonnar wrote.

Bishop Bonnar said while many welcome the decision, he understands there are many who are disappointed or even “angry.”

“My dear parents and guardians, while this issue of temporary masks may divide us on some levels, I ask that we all step back and behold the dignity of every person. We can certainly have our own views on this matter but not at the expense of common respect for the human person or our solidarity as brothers and sisters or the heart of one of the hallmarks of our Catholic identity, unity,” Bishop Bonnar wrote.

The Erie Diocese, which covers Mercer County, has issued a mask recommendation. Schools are being asked to consider the following:

• Screening before entry into schools
• Masking when a county is in the substantial or high categories of community spread
• Distancing students and desks at a minimum of three feet
• Washing and sanitizing hands throughout the school day
• Disinfecting high-touch surfaces frequently
• Increasing ventilation
• Staying home when not feeling well
• Self-reporting for contact tracing
• Isolating or quarantining when appropriate

The Erie Diocese said these are only recommendations, not mandates.

“We are confident in the decisions we have made,” wrote Jim Gallagher, superintendent of schools. “Our personnel and parents will have to pay attention to many details. Given our ongoing evaluation of safety mitigation strategies, as well as our successful track record, we will continue relying on the guidance of the CDC and the Pennsylvania departments of Health and Education.”

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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