VENICE — The Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools released a statement Thursday mandating masks before students returned to school this week, sparking backlash from some parents.
“Some of the effective safety practices that were established in the past will be retained as we strive to provide as normal a school year as possible,” Bishop Frank Dewane stated in a letter.
The letter stated in counties with over 10% positivity rates, the optional mask wearing will become mandatory.
However, if the positivity rates are under 10%, masks will remain optional in the schools.
The schools oversee 5,000 students across 10 counties. Dewane said he was concerned and their priority was the safety of the students.
While some were supportive, many parents responded in an uproar against the mandate stating their parental rights were being abused.
Parents and students gathered out front of the diocese building Monday morning to show their disapproval of the mandate. Several also waited outside all morning to talk to either Dewane or Rev. John Belmonte, the superintendent of Catholic Education.
“We care about the health and well being of everyone,” Jill Vander Pol said. “We just want the option.”
Parents like Vander Pol said they did not care if others wore masks, but they wanted to be able to make the decision for themselves and their families.
According to parents standing outside, like Kristen Gentile, the school previously stated masks were optional but decided to change it just before school began and after tuition was already paid.
“It’s all about control,” Gentile said. “It’s sad.”
She said over the last year, students would come home from school tired and depressed. She also said she and Vander Pol had been trying to talk to the diocese for a year about the masks and the effects on kids — with no luck.
“Even now they won’t see us because we won’t comply,” Gentile said.
Parents were also confused because no one was wearing a mask at a school event on Thursday, Gentile said.
They were shocked to see the statement requiring masks the same night.
“They turned it around,” Gentile said.
Parent Joe Alva said the sudden change was “politically motivated” and played into fear.
With many parents upset, some have thought about pulling their children from the schools.
“If it doesn’t change, we are about to,” Veronica Mundaca said.
Parents also created a petition against the mask mandate with more than 1,000 signatures.
The Diocese of Venice had no comment apart from the original statement letters.