Brooklyn public school students are likely to be wearing masks for the foreseeable future — but it’s a different story for children attending the borough’s Catholic schools.
The Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, which administer Catholic schools across the city, sent an email to parents last week that if appellate courts move to strike down the statewide mask mandate, Catholic schools will be able to immediately make masks optional for all students.
“It is our fervent hope for the Catholic Academies and Parish Schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn that the mask mandate will be eliminated, which would allow our schools to make mask wearing optional based upon local circumstances,” Rev. Msgr. David Cassato, vicar for Diocese of Brooklyn Catholic schools, wrote to parents on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
The email came a day after State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker ruled the state’s mask mandate was unconstitutional. The state immediately appealed his ruling and was granted a stay — an appellate court will soon decide whether the state mask mandate can stand, possibly as early as this week. Until the decision is made, masks remain mandatory in schools.
Even prior to the ruling, some parents were pushing for Brooklyn and Queens Catholic schools to rescind their mask policies.
“Children are being physically and emotionally harmed due to these mask mandates,” claims a Change.org petition to end mask policies at St. Luke’s School in Queens. The petition had 291 signatures as of Jan. 31.
That feeling, though, is not universal. Feng Zhu, a parent at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy in Sunset Park, said she wanted to keep masks mandatory in schools. “We need to be safe for the kids now with COVID still going around.”
Masking in schools has become an increasingly divisive topic state and countrywide. Despite a number of growing movements to end masking, studies have shown areas without school masking policies have higher rates of COVID-19 transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Should the state school mask mandate be upheld by the appellate court, Gov. Kathy Hochul has given no timeline on when it will be lifted.
Regardless of how that plays out, the City says its mask mandate for schools is separate and will remain in place for New York City public schools.
“Mandatory masking has been DOE policy since before the state adopted its mandate, so this decision has no immediate impact on New York City schools,” education department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer told Chalkbeat on Jan. 25.Meanwhile, the separate mask mandate for businesses was extended through Feb. 10 and will be reevaluated every two weeks, the Hochul has said.