The Tampa Bay area’s Catholic schools, like those in public education, will make masks optional for students and teachers when classes start next week amid an upturn in coronavirus cases.
The 13,000-student system had considered a temporary mask requirement for its K-8 campuses, said Chistopher Pastura, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. But that option went away after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Friday aimed at banning mask mandates in schools.
The order cited the Parent’s Bill of Rights that DeSantis signed into law in June, forbidding government-run or “other institutions” from intervening in a parent’s right to make health-related decisions for their children. It is at odds with recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that everyone over age 2 wear a mask in school this fall.
Pastura said he hopes parents will be informed. The diocese, he said, is keenly aware of the elevated COVID-19 numbers, driven by the more contagious delta variant.
“I would like for people to speak to their primary care physician and really have a frank conversation,” Pastura said. “I think too often people are getting their information from social media or other places that maybe don’t have their best interest at heart. If you think about who is your doctor — not some doctor somewhere else — who is your doctor, your doctor that you trust with your health care decisions. Talk to them about the best choices.”
He also expressed gratitude for teachers and employees working under stressful conditions during the pandemic. He said he hopes parents make informed decisions regarding masks surrounding community health.
“More importantly, the conversation has to change from ‘me’ to us,” he said. “So often I hear people saying ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘I want to’ or ‘I’. ... As people of faith I think it’s important we think of others. It goes back to that golden rule, and I think sometimes people have forgotten that.”
Teachers in diocesan schools returned to work Monday, and classes begin next Monday. The diocese provides Catholic education at 46 schools and early childhood centers in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.