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Catholic Schools Superintendent: No COVID-19 vaccine mandates this school year

By Valerie Schmalz

There will be no COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Catholic school students this school year, Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Superintendent Pamela Lyons announced in a letter to parents this week. The letter came in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement earlier this month that he would add COVID-19 vaccines to those required for school children.

“I can confirm that a mandate for students ages 12 and older would not go into effect until July 1, 2022,” Lyons wrote in an Oct. 14 letter to Catholic school parents, guardians, and staff. Lyons’ letter was written in English and in Spanish and distributed by Catholic schools.

“In the meantime, our Archdiocesan leadership will thoroughly review state requirements in the coming weeks and months and will continue to keep you informed as we gather more information,” Lyons wrote in her letter.

“Thank you for your ongoing partnership, flexibility, and understanding as we navigate this situation. Know that we will continue to prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of our students, staff, and families as we move through this new phase of the pandemic,” Lyons wrote.

Speaking at a San Francisco public school Oct. 1, Newsom announced his plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations required to attend school in-person when the vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for middle and high school grades, making California the first state in the nation to announce such a measure. Newsom said the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for in-person school attendance—just like vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and more.

Buried in much of the news coverage was the caveat that the new vaccination mandate would only take effect after the California Department of Public Health followed procedures established by the legislature and after full FDA approval of vaccines for those age groups. Newsom’s announcement said the earliest it could take effect would be July 1, 2022.

In FAQs published on the archdiocesan website earlier this month, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone explained that while there is not a religious exemption to the vaccine because it is permissible under Catholic ethical teaching, Catholics can object in conscience and that conscience exemptions are supported by Catholic teaching. The decision to be vaccinated is a personal choice, the FAQs state, and further add: “We must also voice concern about promoting vaccination in ways that may be coercive or that place unjust burdens on someone who chooses not to be vaccinated such as denying them the right to work, to participate in society, and to have access to an education.”

In the three counties of the archdiocese, Marin, San Mateo and San Francisco, there are 89 Catholic schools: 22 preschools, 55 elementary, and 12 high schools. Just under 23,000 students attend Catholic school in the archdiocese, according to the Catholic schools website.