Vaccinations are not required for students and adults in diocesan Catholic schools “but are strongly encouraged for those eligible to receive them,” according to the 2021-2022 Catholic school opening guidance from the Diocese of St. Cloud sent Aug. 18 to Catholic school principals and pastors.
Regarding masking, “school leaders may decide if face covering will be optional or required of employees, students and visitors,” the guidance said. The basis of the school’s policy, however, must include a regular review of recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, county public health authorities and consultation with the diocese.
Schools are “urged to consider the use of temporary requirements of face coverings during periods of ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ transmission rates of COVID-19,” the guidance states, adding that the school “must communicate clearly and promptly” with families upon any changes to policy and practices. Any or all measures classified by the guidance as “recommended” can be made a requirement by individual schools if school officials determine it is in the best interest of the health and safety of students and staff.
Face coverings are required by federal law when riding district-provided or public transportation.
The guidance also addresses topics such as physical distancing, expectations for school visitors, hygiene etiquette, the importance of staying home when ill, and reporting requirements.
“I want to begin by sharing my gratitude for your care and leadership of our Catholic schools over these past two school years,” Bishop Donald Kettler wrote in a cover letter accompanying the guidance. “You have faced many challenges in your ministry with families. But I also know there have been times of great joy and accomplishment. We know the road ahead will ask more of us. Please know that I pray for your school communities and I am committed to support your work along the way.”
He noted his support for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “This is the most effective way in which we can slow transmission of the virus and provide safe places of learning. I do not require vaccinations, but urge eligible people to receive them,” he wrote.
He also addressed the use of face masks for unvaccinated persons. “This is especially important when there are high levels of transmission surrounding parish and school communities,” he wrote. “While not required across all diocese schools, I strongly encourage the practice to protect all who are not yet eligible for vaccination.”
“We know that there will be further developments with the virus in the weeks and months ahead,” he added. “As your bishop, I ask you to be open to new ways to respond to the needs of our students, families and employees.”
Bishop Kettler’s most recent letter and the guidance follows his Aug. 5 letter to Catholic school parents and families in which he outlined the main features of the school opening guidance.