Archdiocesan schools preparing to welcome back students

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A teacher instructs students at Queen of the Rosary School in Elk Grove Village on Aug. 17, 2020, during the first week of in-person classes in archdiocesan schools. The Archdiocese of Chicago distributed $1.4 million from its Gratitude Fund to teachers, administrators and staff in archdiocesan Catholic schools to recognize the work they have done during the pandemic. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

After a year of successfully conducting in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic schools are preparing to welcome students back this fall with updated restrictions — but with an understanding that safety measures could change with conditions.

“This is an unfolding scenario,” said Justin Lombardo, chief human resources officer and chair of the Archdiocesan COVID-19 Task Force. “We will continue to follow the science on this, and what the science is telling us is that vaccines are the best defense against this, and that masks and social distancing are also effective for people who can’t be vaccinated, including children under 12.”

The archdiocese released new guidelines for the reopening of school July 20. Lombardo spoke with Chicago Catholic before Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Aug. 4 announcement that all schools, preK through grade 12, must require all students, staff and visitors to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Based on the guidelines, Lombardo said, schools will no longer be required to keep students in separate cohorts throughout the school day as long as they can keep seating charts so that if a student does become infected, the students who sit adjacent to him or her can be quarantined.

Also, rooms will be arranged to continue to allow 3 feet between seats whenever possible.

Schools can also resume school Masses as well as extracurricular activities, including athletics, choir and drama. Before- and after-school care can be offered, libraries and computer labs can reopen and schools will no longer have to stagger arrival times or perform wellness checks on arriving students.

However, parents must keep their children home if they are ill or experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19. Schools will maintain daily cleaning procedures for desks and high traffic areas, and students are encouraged to use hand sanitizer throughout the day and drink from water bottles instead of shared water fountains.

Some schools are setting their own requirements as well, based on their own needs.

St. Francis de Sales High School, 10155 S. Ewing Ave., an independent Catholic school, will require all students and staff to wear masks in the building, said Roni-Nicola Facen, the school’s principal. While 100% of the school’s faculty and staff and 73% of students are vaccinated — thanks in part to the three vaccination events the school hosted over the summer — a lower proportion of neighborhood residents are vaccinated than in other parts of the archdiocese, and many of the students live in multigenerational households.

“We are going to do everything we can to keep everybody safe,” said Facen, who is a graduate of St. Francis de Sales and still lives in the community.

Lombardo said Catholic schools must do what they can to protect their communities as well as their students and staff members, and that the guidelines are consistent with the recommendations of the Illinois Department of Public Health as well as health departments in Chicago and Cook and Lake counties.

As the situation changes, those agencies could change their recommendations, Lombardo said. The archdiocese also will be tracking numbers of cases and can adjust its guidelines as needed.

Facen said she’s confident that her school and other Catholic schools will keep students and staff safe.

“The start of last year, we had no answers and we were kind of fumbling around in the dark a little,” she said. “Now we know we can keep kids safe, that we can put protocols in place to keep our staff and our students safe. I’m super confident we can.”


  • catholic schools
  • covid-19

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