The school mask regime appears to be collapsing. On Monday, Democratic governors in New Jersey and Delaware announced expiration dates for their states’ school mask mandates. Jersey’s Gov. Phil Murphy called the measure a “huge step back to normalcy for our kids.” Amen. It’s a yearning increasingly voiced in left-of-center pages, with the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic, and NPR all publishing anti-school-masking pieces in recent days.
The upshot is that many media liberals are getting worried about school masking’s long-term effects on their own kids, not to mention its sheer cruelty and pointlessness. And many Democratic officeholders are no doubt jittery about what obstinance over this issue portends for their ballot-box chances come November.
There is one exception, however: In the nation’s largest school district, New York City, children remain hostage to grownup hysteria and political cravenness, with Mayor Eric Adams doubling down on school masking (though the indispensable Twitter account Libs of TikTok caught him unmasked just recently). If they’re ever to breathe free, Gotham’s children might need help from a higher power—and his earthly apostle, in the form of Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
Ever since the pandemic erupted, New York’s archdiocesan schools responded rapidly, sanely, and responsibly where public schools foundered and utterly failed kids. Early on, when the virus was poorly understood and mitigation measures a guessing-game, city Catholic schools shuttered their doors and quickly switched to remote learning. But unlike union-dominated public schools that then stayed in remote mode for most of the following school year (2020-21), archdiocesan schools under Superintendent Michael Deegan committed to offering in-person learning to those parents and kids who wanted it; more than 1,000 new families frustrated by the shambles of the public system flocked to parochial schools, reversing a historic trend of declining enrollment.
In-person schooling in Catholic settings was safe and in line with the latest public-health guidelines: Masking, social distancing, tracing and small cohorts were all part of the mitigation agenda. The result: Only one Covid case—yes: one single case—in archdiocesan schools resulted from in-school transmission. Catholic schools, in other words, disproved that schooling is a major vector for the coronavirus—a claim used by union bosses and their political and media allies to delay full reopening month after month after month.
Then, for the 2021-22 school year, the cardinal and Deegan made the courageous decision to discontinue remote and hybrid models in favor of full and exclusive in-person learning. This was in recognition of the fact that archdiocesan schools serve “thousands of working-class households and many communities of color” hit hard by lockdowns and other restrictions, as Dolan wrote in the New York Post last year.
Now it’s up to the cardinal and Deegan to make another brave call: to proactively resist school mask mandates in Catholic schools. We’ve known, since the early months of the pandemic, that children are at minuscule risk from the virus and transmit it differently than do adults. We also know that masking kids eight hours a day exacts a high social and developmental price, particularly on younger kids, who learn to listen, enunciate, and read emotional cues through facial expressions and mouth movements. So why would schools rooted in the Catholic tradition—with its emphasis on faith and reason—continue to adopt irrational measures?
Well, the answer lies in state power. As Deegan said in a letter to the city’s Catholic community last month, the archdiocese “fervently” opposes masking kids, and plans to make masks optional the minute the state drops its mandate. The issue is pending litigation in New York courts, with parents and districts caught between rival holdings from different judges. Wrote Deegan: “Until the court renders a final decision, Catholic schools will follow the state mask mandate.”
That’s good so far as it goes, but the archdiocese must go further, by lobbying more visibly against state and local mask mandates and perhaps even launching litigation to protect the Church’s sacred prerogative to educate her children without the burden of harmful, mindless rules. Here, too, there is local precedent. In 2020, the Brooklyn diocese under Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio joined a Jewish congregation to successfully challenge then-governor Andrew Cuomo’s oppressive and irrational capacity limits on houses of worship.
The Catholic Church’s voice can still ring loudly in the halls of power. By taking a tougher stance against masking kids, the Roman church can remind New Yorkers and others that she safeguards not only supernatural revelation—but also natural wisdom.
We’re counting on you, Eminence. So are the kids.