The following story appeared in the August 27 Idaho Catholic Register.
A kindergarten student at St. Ignatius School in Meridian is already hard at work
By Dr. Sarah Quilici
On Monday, Aug. 16, I had the opportunity to attend a Mass of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Boise.
It was the first day of school, and the Mass was held in an outside courtyard. Father Roger Fernando talked about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, emphasizing wisdom.
We need wisdom as we enter this new school year.
The Mass represented the heart of what Catholic schools offer to students: an opportunity to celebrate Mass and to learn together as a community of believers. That is the mission of Catholic schools and the reason we exist.
There are some unknowns as we enter this school year, but we should know our mission. Our Catholic schools are helping students excel at faith, service and life. Parents choose to send their children to our schools because they know that we educate the whole child. We need the wisdom to not lose sight of that.
In June, Bishop Peter Christensen and I announced that we would begin school with masks as optional. That was our desire and the conditions – at that point in time – supported this decision. However, as the opening of school got closer and COVID-19 cases continued to increase, our guidance changed. On Aug. 4, we issued a memo stating that masks would be recommended and that schools should follow the guidance of their local health departments. Each of these messages said that new information was coming out daily, and this was subject to change.
On Aug. 12, there was a situation at one of our area schools that caused several staff members to be quarantined before the start of the school year. This incident, and other new information, prompted further consideration regarding masking in our schools. A memo went out to school principals and priests that gave them the authority to make decisions regarding masking for their own school community. Bishop Peter and I recommended that schools start the first three weeks with a mask requirement to help us further assess what is going on.
The Diocese of Boise covers the entire state of Idaho, thus it is best for each school to assess the need regarding masking in their building and within their community. This was the way it worked last year.
The recommendation to wear masks for the first three weeks was an added mitigation measure that came from a realization that students and staff are coming back together from a variety of locations and activities. The three weeks also provides time for schools to assess how many staff and students have COVID or are in quarantine and to gather other local data.
Quarantine times away from school are shorter when all students are masked. Our goal is to provide continuous in-person instruction, and our schools are trying to determine the best approach to doing this. Several of our schools offered online options last year, but it was very difficult for our teaching staff to support both virtual students and in-person students. The focus this year at all schools has been to prioritize and support the best in-person learning that we can offer.
There are passionate feelings on both sides of this issue, and it has the potential to divide our communities. We need to re-focus on the mission of our Catholic schools and return to that. If teachers and principals are too busy fighting a mask battle, our students are the ones who suffer.
On a more encouraging note, over the summer, Idaho Catholic students from seven schools across the diocese participated together in an online summer school. The students were in math or English classes with other students from across the Diocese. Idaho Digital Learning Alliance (IDLA) provided teachers a program in math and English. The focus was on helping students reach grade-level benchmarks if they were behind after the school year. It was a great opportunity for our schools to have a collective experience.
Several of the schools worked on construction projects this summer.
St. Joseph’s in Boise is installing a new playground. Sacred Heart in Boise is installing a new roof. St. Mark’s in Boise is adding two new classrooms and a chapel, with an estimated completion date at the end of September. Bishop Kelly High School added a counselor suite, some classrooms, and a new entrance to the football stadium with restrooms and a concession stand. St. John Bosco in Cottonwood and St. Mary’s in Boise both have construction projects slated to begin this fall. Because students and teachers are not in the buildings, summer was a good time to repaint, wax floors and make other improvements.
Enrollment has increased throughout the diocese. There are new faces in all of the schools, among staff and students.
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