Diocese of St. Augustine reverses course, will require masks in Catholic schools

St. Joseph Academy is one of the Diocese of St. Augustine schools affected by the new mask policy.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Augustine have reversed course and will once again require masks inside school buildings, the diocese announced Monday.

The original plan released to principals on July 29 required masks to be worn indoors for all employees, faculty, staff and students based on the Florida Department of Health data showing a high positivity rate in North Florida counties with Catholic schools, a school spokeswoman said.

But that changed after the diocese received an executive order signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on July 30, banning mask mandates in schools.

The diocese went back to its original plan Monday after learning that DeSantis’ order does not apply to non-public schools as it was originally led to believe.

“Therefore, we have revised our policy to align with the Florida Department of Health (FLDOH), American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control regarding best practices in slowing the spread of the virus,” an email to parents states. “The delta variant and others that have been identified recently have been infecting children at a higher rate, and most of our student population (12 and under) is unable to be vaccinated.”

The new mask policy, which applies to students age 5 and older, goes into effect on Aug. 10 and is subject to change.

The diocese said the protocols released Monday are a temporary measure.

“The diocese doesn’t anticipate the mask mandate will be in place for the entire school year, but that depends on the positivity rates in North Florida,” a spokesperson said. “Masks will become optional once we see the positivity rates of people contracting COVID-19 and its variants dip to 10 percent or less.”

In response to the new policy, News4Jax has learned that parents plan to hold a protest Friday at 9 a.m. at the Diocese of St. Augustine headquarters.

The Diocese of St. Augustine encompasses 17 counties of North Florida. Parents can visit www.dosaeducation.org/covid-19 to see the weekly updates by county.