Christian Education

DC Catholic schools drop mask mandate following lawsuit

Unsplash/Georg Arthur Pflueger

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington dropped its mask mandate for Catholic school students after two parents sued District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser over an exception to the masking requirement for their children.

Kelly Branaman, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, informed parents in a letter released Wednesday that students attending DC’s Catholic schools will no longer have to wear masks at school.

“After the mayor [Muriel] Bowser’s recent face covering communication mandates a local decision, Archdiocesan Catholic schools in the District of Columbia will no longer require face coverings for students, staff, or visitors beginning March 9, 2022,” a- she said in a statement.

“Depending on the needs of the leaders of each school to prepare, schools will transition between March 9 and March 14,” she said. “We appreciate and will fully support any decisions parents make for their own children about whether or not to wear a face covering at school. Enforcement of this decision is between the parent and the child, not the school staff.

DC Health Department guidelines updated Tuesday, a day after the lawsuit was filed, say “most people no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors in educational institutions, unless community levels of COVID-19 are HIGH.”

Branaman noted that “the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington lifted the mask mandate on February 21, 2022 in Maryland,” suggesting that Bowser and city officials prevented the archdiocese from doing the same in the city. In addition to DC, the Archdiocese serves five counties in Maryland.

The Archdiocese’s announcement and new DC Health Department guidelines came after two parents, who have a total of seven children attending a Catholic school in the city, filed a lawsuit against Bowser, the district of Columbia, director of the DC Department of Health. Laquandra Nesbitt and the DC Department of Health.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The complaint argues that the mask mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The lawsuit, announced Tuesday by the legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, comes as states and other major cities roll back mask mandates and coronavirus restrictions two years into the pandemic.

“Mayor Bowser is placing an unconstitutional burden on these religious schools and the children who attend them by still requiring them to wear masks when she lifted this mandate for nearly every other private business and organization in the district,” said ADF lead counsel Matt Bowman. “It is legally baseless to say that private schools cannot make their own decisions about masks when almost any other private entity can.”

Bowman argued that private schools were “unfairly punished”.

“In most counties, private schools weren’t even required to wear masks, and in most public schools, mask mandates are lifted,” Bowman said. “We urge Mayor Bowser to immediately repeal his illegal mandate on religious schools.”

One of the parents who filed the lawsuit, Sheila Dugan, cited the “stress and discomfort” caused by forced mask-wearing as the motivating factor behind the legal challenge.

“There’s no excuse for freeing bars and strip clubs from mask mandates while forcing my kindergartener to wear a mask to read, pray and play dodgeball,” Dugan explained. “As a Catholic, I am obligated to protect my children from harm; that’s why we filed this lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed that under the old policy, a child could sit for hours at a Washington Wizards basketball game in the crowded Capital One Arena without wearing a mask, but had to cover their face during seven hours a day inside a Catholic school building.

“Masks prevent students and teachers from articulating their words clearly, being heard effectively, learning language skills and enunciation, and communicating with the full range of human emotions and facial muscle groups during education of the whole person,” the lawsuit said. . “Masking children and teachers significantly impairs socialization, emotional intelligence, mental health, and the complex relationship between words and facial features.”

The lawsuit highlighted the specific impacts faced by plaintiffs’ children as a result of mask mandates, including “headaches that were not present before the institution of the mask mandate but did not surface only with the mask mandate” and “difficulty breathing”. An aversion to wearing a mask prompted one of the complainants’ children to beg his mother not to send him back to school, the complaint alleges.

While the lawsuit asked a federal court to declare the mask warrant void, it also sought “nominal damages” for the plaintiffs as well as payment of their attorney fees. The lawsuit was filed about a week after the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote a letter to DC officials requesting a “discretionary exception for all private religious schools to the mask mandate.”

The city responded by saying it needed “more time to review the revised version [Centers for Disease Control] orientation as well as the request of the parents. The lawsuit claims that the DC Department of Health never responded to a subsequent inquiry asking if its director was ‘willing to waive enforcement of the mask mandate on Catholic school children for however long defendants need. to reconsider the mayor’s order”.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be contacted at: [email protected]