By Dr. Samuel Torres
Summer has provided our students with the opportunity for learning outside of our classrooms while the business of preparing our school campuses is underway. The return to in-person learning in spring 2021 brought forward many challenges and valuable lessons learned. Moving forward, our primary goal is to provide the safest environment possible for our students and staff.
The opportunity before us today requires our diligence and earnest efforts in support of safe protocols. Daily communications inform us as the spread of COVID-19 elevates and data changes. Unfortunately, the information being presented is sometimes confusing and contradicting. The CDC and the California Department of Public Health have guided our schools, resulting in the safest of school environments, with minimal incidents reported.
One course of action is often not agreeable to all, however, please know that decisions are made based on many factors and the information available in a given moment. Trusting the information we have, we believe we have what we need to retain safety on campus. Hygiene and masks are two of the essentials that we can control. Hand sanitizing, clean environment and masking while indoors will allow us to implement a safe in-person learning.
This is the first step in addressing the social and emotional wellbeing of our students when they are together. When they are encouraged to engage in these group safe practices, they also participate in an action of caring for one another.
Our Catholic school system reflects the principles of Catholic social teaching, the core principle being the respect for life and dignity of the human person. We are one community and directed by God to care for one another. We are responsible for one another. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We try to protect the most vulnerable, and that is a large scope, but it’s not impossible when we work together.
We must sacrifice to attempt the creation of safe and welcoming environments for everyone, from our students who cannot be vaccinated to those who have medical issues or who have multiple generations living at home. Mutual collaboration and respect for protocols helps us all when we find it difficult or don’t fully agree, remembering that we turn this world over to a generation that will need to work together, and who watching and learning how well we are doing.
The two elements of the guidance mentioned above that will directly benefit students and the two most preventative measures are hygiene and masking. At this time, physical distancing and cohort scheduling are no longer required. The elimination of these measures will allow us to continue to provide full-time, in-person instruction for every student enrolled in our Catholic schools.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has also created new options that will reduce, and in some cases eliminate, absences required for quarantine following a close contact with someone who has COVID-19. This will allow us to avoid sending full classrooms of students home for quarantine. With the elimination of these requirements, the CDPH is relying on a multilayered prevention strategy approach, including continued face covering guidance and robust testing programs provided free by the state. This detailed information will be distributed at individual sites.
The Office of Catholic Schools will continue to monitor our state’s guidance and will keep you posted on any changes that impact Catholic school operations.
Our Catholic school communities and staff members supported each other, went above and beyond to learn new ways of doing things and did everything possible to take care of our students and families. We did it together, and this is our strategy moving forward.
Thank you for your continued patience and understanding. May our faithful God shine warmly on you and your family.
Dr. Samuel Torres is the superintendent for the Diocese's Catholic schools.