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Diocese of Baton Rouge Bishop Michael Duca speaks during Palm Sunday Mass at the cathedral, March 28, 2021. Palm Sunday marks the first day of Holy Week, the last week of the Christian solemn season of Lent that precedes Eastertide. In most liturgical churches, Palm Sunday is celebrated by the blessing and distribution of palm branches representing the palm branches which the crowd scattered in front of Christ, as he rode into Jerusalem.

A day after saying masks would be required in Catholic schools for the unvaccinated, the Diocese of Baton Rouge reversed course Thursday.

Now, masks will be optional. Plus, proof of inoculation won't be necessary and daily temperature checks are out.

The about-face came in a letter Thursday night from Bishop Michael Duca.

In the missive, Duca explained that diocesan officials initially thought Louisiana's recent guidance on curbing the spread of the deadly coronavirus was mandatory. Once State Superintendent Cade Brumley clarified that the guidelines are just recommendations, Duca said the diocese scrapped its own mandates.

As The Advocate has reported, Brumley and other state education officials announced weeks ago that these new guidelines were always going to be non-binding. The guidance was generated to help campuses prepare for the soon-to-start 2021-22 school year, especially since Gov. John Bel Edwards in late May lifted a mandate requiring mask-wearing in schools.

In addition to backpedaling on masks, Duca retreated on earlier diocesan plans to require students and staff to show their vaccination status. He also said that guidance around the length of quarantines is being revisited.

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Duca indicated that many Catholic families had expressed concerns about the rules announced earlier in the week.

“My office has received and heard the concerns of parents — the first teachers of their children — and other concerned members of the community regarding the difficulties of creating a safe environment for children amid changing variables,” Duca writes.

The Diocese of Baton Rouge oversees 31 Catholic schools across eight parishes. One of its elementary schools, St. Alphonsus in Central, even lauded the mask mandate reversal on social media by sharing Duca's email in a post and calling it "great news."

The diocesan has relied on a team of officials to establish rules for the new school year, with help from medical professionals with Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. They draw on the recent state safety guidance as well as advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The original version of the diocese rule mirrored CDC guidance that vaccinated people in schools don’t need to cover their faces, but that “masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated.” It also was similar to the approach recently announced by New Orleans public schools.

Most schools in Louisiana, however, plan to make mask-wearing optional in the coming academic year.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.