It started with an outrage from parents that stems from their children.
LeMoine Shoriak is 11 yrs old and going into the 5th grade at a local Catholic school. She and her mom Katie said LeMoine has already been separated, at least from a 6 feet perspective, from her friends for a year and a half now. They expected some normalcy when they would go back for the 2021-2022 school year.
But after a three page notification went out to parents from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, specifically the Diocese’ Superintendent Dr. Melanie Palmisano, normal doesn’t feel like it’ll happen to many parents. It basically reads students and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to mask or maintain physical distancing while all unvaccinated adults and students in grade 3-12 must wear face masks while indoors, including classrooms.
Plus, unvaccinated students must remain at least 3-feet apart in classrooms, 6 feet apart while eating and any activities like shouting, band practice, sports or exercise. Unvaccinated adults must remain 6-feet apart.
“Where did they get the 3 feet from? Did they just divide the 6 feet?” asked parent Ned Fasullo, who also started a petition against the notice.
But the physical wearing a mask is not what has many parents and children upset, it’s the separation of the vaccinated from the unvaccinated.
The Louisiana Dept. of Health said the FDA has not authorized a covid vaccine for children under 12, meaning there is none unless the child is in trial.
It’s not my fault I wasn’t born a year earlier.
Because of that outrage, Fasullo, who has two girls in local catholic schools, started a petition Wednesday morning. The numbers of signatures were increasing by the second on that online petition.
“The idea behind this was to make sure our voices are heard,” said Fasullo. “It has snowballed into a very large issue for the Diocese so my expectation is they backtrack this pretty quickly. I don’t think any of us place blame on any one person. We’re certainly not at war with the Diocese. Our kids are in Catholic schools because we support the Diocese, but this could have gone very, very differently.
Unfiltered with Kiran reached out to the Diocese numerous times specifically asking for the superintendent either on camera or a statement. Instead, Dan Borne from the Diocese responded and said they would not be doing any interviews and instead sent a page long comment. The quick summary of the statement in that “with many people no longer wearing masks during the summer and families traveling out of state, it is important to implement protocols to begin the school year out of an abundance of caution to ensure safety.”
When asked about the possible separation of those vaccinated from those not vaccinated, Borne said “it’s one of the number of questions we are working through and probably won’t get back to you today…”
The frustrations from the notification Wednesday morning has some parents and children considering pulling out of the catholic school system all together like Shoriak.
“Someone needs to protect these children. If it’s not the government, surely it should be the Archdiocese,” said Jill Hines, co-director of Health Freedom Louisiana, a consumer and human rights advocacy organization.
Hines has been the fighting voice for children and parents at the state Capitol.
Some said the notification from the Diocese may be in line with the EBR public schools. They however said their guidance for the upcoming school year will not be out till Aug. 3rd at the latest.
COMPLETE RESPONSE FROM CATHOLIC DIOCESE:
Schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge just completed a very successful school year, despite the challenges that the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic presented. All Catholic schools in our diocese reopened in August 2020 for a full school year of in-person learning, and students benefitted from the safe environments that were created through protocols that were followed with fidelity to reduce the risk of infection for all on campus.
Realizing that the pandemic is not yet over, the State of Louisiana has issued guidelines for returning to school based on current CDC recommendations. Catholic schools again accept the obligation to provide a safe environment so that students can return to in-person learning with as little disruption as possible because of infection and associated quarantine. In addition, with many people no longer wearing masks during the summer and families traveling out of state, it is important to implement protocols to begin the school year out of an abundance of caution to ensure safety. Further, although other districts may not begin the year with some of the protocols we are initially adopting, the diocese is being proactive in establishing the attached policy for schools where individuals are indoors together for extended periods. Each Catholic school will adjust protocols to meet the needs of the students based on factors such as space, enrollment, and staff size. Details will be sent in the next few weeks.
While it may seem that schools are beginning as they ended the last school year, some of the updates that are less restrictive than last year include:
· Resume Field Trips and Elementary Sports Programs
· Eliminate Daily Temperature Checks
· Allow Optional Face Masks for Vaccinated Individuals
· Reduce Quarantine for Classroom Instruction
· Lower Physical Distancing
The policy for back-to-school was processed with the help of many. Thanks to DSB Members Donna Newchurch Landry and Fr. Jamin David, Principals Ellen Lee, Danette Ragusa, and Paula Johnson, Vicar General Fr. Tom Ranzino, Secretary of Catholic Schools Fr. Paul Yi, Diocesan HR Director Anita Krail, Diocesan Attorney Charles Spencer, and Dr. Chris Funes of OLOL for their great input. Thanks, also, to principals for meeting with OLOL consultants (Dr. Funes, Dr. Boltin, and Dr. Robinson) online to review the policy and for meeting with each other the next day to plan for implementation. We are also grateful to parents and other stakeholders who continue to trust us as we establish the best possible environment for face-to-face learning.
Let’s continue to hope that positive changes in the pandemic in our area and updated medical information will allow for reevaluation and relaxation of safety protocols during the school year and promise that we will remain flexible in considering updates as they are received.
Thanks for your leadership and continued support of Catholic schools. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. The policy is posted online (www.csobr.org) along with links to the state’s guidelines.
Dr. Melanie B. Palmisano
Superintendent of Schools
Diocese of Baton Rouge