Home Education and Careers Diocese of Wilmington announces that masks are optional in Delaware schools as...

Diocese of Wilmington announces that masks are optional in Delaware schools as of March 2

St. John the Beloved's choir is masked while singing a new hymn based on Bishop Koenig's motto, "We Walk by Faith" when the bishop visited last fall. Dialog file photo

Once Delaware Gov. John Carney moved the end of the school mask mandate up a month, from the end of March to March 2, the Diocese of Wilmington has made mask-wearing optional in its elementary and high schools. The decision on whether to wear a mask or not will be made by parents and guardians, superintendent Louis de Angelo said. The governor’s announcement also applies to child-care facilities.

The number of COVID cases in parish and diocesan schools has been on the decline in recent weeks, he said. In the second week of January, there were 292 positive cases. By the second week of February, that number had dipped to just 21. That trend “seems to mirror” the overall incidence of COVID, De Angelo said.

Carney said there are “a lot of reasons to be optimistic about where we’re headed.” Cases and hospitalizations have declined, and the state is moving into a new phase of the coronavirus pandemic. His decision also reflects new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students in Delaware have been wearing masks in schools since the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year.

A letter sent from the state to school leaders across Delaware asks administrators to continue to monitor the trends in the school and community.

“Special attention should be paid to vaccination rates and new cases in the school and surrounding community. Higher vaccination rates provide the best protection and are the best tool in preventing new cases,” reads the letter signed by Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the state Division of Public Health, and Mark Holodick, the secretary of education.

Rattay and Holodick encouraged schools to consider temporary measures if infection rates spike.

If a parent or guardian requires his or her child to wear a mask, that decision will be between them, according to the diocese. School administrators, faculty and staff will not be responsible for monitoring individual requests.

Staff and visitors will have the option to wear masks beginning on March 2, and face coverings will no longer be mandatory on buses or school vans.

The diocese has given its schools some guidance on how to handle questions that might arise, particularly among younger students, about why some of their classmates are still wearing masks.

“At school, if you see a person wearing a mask, it doesn’t mean they are sick,” the guidance reads. “They are allowed to have privacy around why they choose to wear a mask. This means we don’t ask, ‘Why are you wearing your mask?’ It is just the right choice for them.”

The guidance also says students will have the option to participate in pool testing, and it stresses the importance of washing one’s hands or using hand sanitizer.

The Diocese of Wilmington will continue to follow health department guidance in both Delaware and Maryland requiring students or staff who test positive for COVID. School nurses in Delaware will discontinue in-school contact tracing, but parents are expected to report household contact to the nurse. Quarantining for close contacts — except for those in the same household — will be discontinued. Schools in Maryland will follow local health department guidelines regarding contact tracing, the diocese said.

The state has provided schools with guidance for handling the pandemic after the end of the mask mandate. It consists of routine COVID-19 procedures and outbreak procedures.

When someone tests positive, he or she should quarantine at home for five days and, if symptoms have resolved, wear a mask in school for the next five days. The other option is to isolate for 10 days and be fever-free for at least 24 hours without medication. Any positive individual should stay home until they receive a negative test.

Schools are encouraged to contact the Division of Public Health if there are concerns about in-school spread or local outbreaks. Concerns might include two or more cases in a classroom or among an extracurricular group such as an athletic team. Schools should consider temporary masking or testing for classrooms in this case, the letter reads.

Masks became optional in Catholic schools on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on Feb. 15 in accordance with decisions made in that state.

Along with ending the mask mandate, Carney’s decision also ends the testing or vaccination requirements for educators and state employees. The mask requirement in most state facilities will be lifted beginning March 2.