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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The Diocese of Nashville Catholic Schools announced a universal mask protocol effective Wednesday, according to a letter from the superintendent of schools.

The decision was made after the Diocese’s data collection and consultation with pastors and principals.

“With just a few school exemptions, all students, faculty, staff and guests, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask while indoors on our campuses and on buses,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rebecca Hammel wrote in a letter to parents and guardians. “We realize neither masks nor vaccinations are 100% effective against the virus, but each provides a layer of protection that can reduce transmission among our students, employees and family members at home.”

Hammel said the protocol will be evaluated on Sept. 29 and every fourth week after until schools return to the levels more closely aligned to last year.

Two schools – St. John Vianney in Gallatin and Sacred Heart School in Lawrenceburg – are exempted from the mask protocol.

St. John Vianney, a school of 100 students, has experienced zero cases of COVID-19 and its attendance rates are above the average currently observed in schools. Sacred Heart, a school of 85, has experienced some cases, though they are traced to adult or home contacts.

St. Patrick School in McEwen, a school of 120 and zero cases, will maintain its modified mask protocol as they continue to return to school after devastating floods.

All three schools will continue to monitor and will initiate further measures in consultation with the diocese, including masks, if warranted.

“The universal mask protocol is for all families. Governor Lee’s Executive Order 84 does not exempt a family from complying in a private school setting. All individuals indoors on our campus are to wear a mask until further notice. Students without a mask will be given a mask; refusal to wear a mask will prevent the student from classroom participation at this time,” Hammel wrote in the letter.

On Aug. 23, the diocese reported 60 new COVID cases and 225 new quarantine/isolation cases. The cumulative COVID cases were 112 COVID cases and 340 in quarantine/isolation. As of Monday, the cumulative cases rose to 128 total cases and 397 in quarantine/isolation.

The Diocese of Nashville Catholic Schools added a COVID-19 dashboard to its website on Tuesday. The page will also include common protocols, though each school adapted diocesan policies to their own school building and shared those with each family prior to the start of the year.

“This has been a difficult start to our school year among parents for several reasons, partly due to the shift of masking protocol from the diocese,” Hammel wrote in the letter. “We have heard the voices of so many, both supporting and challenging school-wide and diocesan-wide decisions. I urge you to prayerfully contemplate the difficult position to which our school leaders were forced. Please understand each one is balancing this pandemic, its new variants and effects, with the duties and responsibilities of managing the school and parish. Fortunately, the activities inside our classrooms are joy-filled and students are learning.”

Hammel also discussed the deadly flooding in Waverly that affected St. Patrick School.

“Our brothers and sisters at St. Patrick School in McEwen experienced horrific losses last week with the flooding and storms. Some lost homes, businesses, cars and loved ones,” Hammel wrote. “A local contact there shared that the community members are helping neighbors clean out destroyed homes, salvaging what they can, while others took food prepared by St. Patrick families to people who lost everything and to the many volunteers helping them. Sadly, they must balance this with attending funerals, wakes and services for those lost in this disaster. And now, more rain and threats of flooding. Yet they continue to selflessly support one another through acts of love.”

St. Patrick School is expected to begin receiving children from the local public schools that must be condemned, displacing students from their familiar school community.

“We know many will be unable to pay tuition due to their losses, but the children need the routine and emotional security, so we do it,” Hammel wrote. “This is the Good News in action.”


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