The Philadelphia Archdiocese announced Feb. 11 the use of masks will be optional for all students and staff in its suburban schools, effective Feb. 28.

The update does not apply to archdiocesan schools within Philadelphia due to the city’s ongoing Department of Public Health requirement. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said Feb. 9 the mask mandate would continue since the city was “not out of the woods yet.”

The revised archdiocesan policy was outlined in a Feb. 11 letter to parents and guardians of school students, and signed by Andrew McLaughlin, secretary for archdiocesan elementary education; Nancy Kurtz, interim superintendent for secondary schools; and Irene Horstmann Hannan, CEO of the Faith in the Future Foundation.


The move also extends to students in PREP (Parish Religious Education Programs) at parishes in Bucks, Delaware, Chester and Montgomery Counties, effective Feb. 28, according to a Feb. 11 memorandum to pastors from Father Stephen DeLacy, archdiocesan Vicar for Faith Formation with Youth and Young Adults.

Citing revised protocols from the archdiocesan Office for Divine Worship, Father DeLacy also noted face coverings will be optional in the suburban counties for the reception of first penance, first holy Communion and confirmation, while remaining “strongly encouraged” in Philadelphia for these three sacraments “until further notice.”

Masks will still be required on school buses, regardless of passengers’ vaccination status, in accord with federal law. Students who have tested positive for COVID will also need to mask up for five days after their return to school.

Under the new guidelines, students and staff members at suburban archdiocesan schools may choose to continue wearing masks, which are recommended for those who are unvaccinated or who have medical conditions placing them at higher risk for COVID transmission.

Archdiocesan education officials encouraged “in the strongest possible terms” all students and staff to receive both COVID vaccinations and boosters.

Safety protocols such as social distancing, increased ventilation and enhanced cleaning will continue to remain in place at archdiocesan schools, they said, adding that any case surges might prompt a return to the use of masks.

At the same time, they pointed to “a significant drop in the number of positive cases” in archdiocesan schools over the last two weeks, a decline that has prompted them to “adjust (their) plan slowly in order to return to a more traditional school environment while keeping children safe,” according to the letter.

“The further reduction of other mitigation efforts will be considered over time pending circumstances,” they wrote.