August 13, 2021

In-person instruction remains a ‘high priority’ as another school year in a pandemic begins

A eucharistic procession on Aug. 4 helped to begin the school year at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

A eucharistic procession on Aug. 4 helped to begin the school year at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Masks or no masks?

In-school instruction or virtual learning—or a combination of the two?

And what about procedures for quarantining related to possible

COVID-19 infections in Catholic schools across the archdiocese?

Those questions and concerns are once again at the forefront for educators and students—and their parents—as August gives rise to the beginning of another school year amid the pandemic, a time when COVID cases are once again surging in Indiana.

For now, the commitment to in-person instruction for Catholic school students is paramount, says Brian Disney, who became the superintendent of the 68 Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana on July 1.

“In-person student instruction is a high priority for the schools and the Office of Catholic Schools,” Disney said. “From an academic standpoint, our students learn better when they are in person.

“From social, emotional and spiritual perspectives, in-person learning is extremely important. Just as God is a community in the Holy Trinity, we reflect that community when we’re together at school, at Mass and at events.”

Regarding the issue of masks or no masks—and other choices concerning COVID—Disney says those decisions are best made by the individual school communities.

“The Office of Catholic Schools provided recommendations on developing COVID procedures to our pastors, presidents and principals in mid-July,” he said. “Our recommendations primarily focused on working together and communicating with school commissions, deanery schools and public health officials in making decisions that are best for their individual school communities.”

The Office of Catholic Schools also recommended that schools use “multiple layers of preventions” regarding COVID, including social distancing and assigning specific seats to students.

“Per federal government regulations, masks must be worn on public and school transportation,” Disney noted. “Additionally, our schools will follow local health department orders. Like last year, our schools will report cases to their local health departments and the Office of Catholic Schools. They will quarantine unvaccinated close contacts as required.”

The recommendations and approaches are similar to many that were in place during the last academic year, when Catholic schools were mostly successful in providing in-school instruction and in-person faith-based opportunities as well as a range of extracurricular activities that included sports and theater.

After a meeting with the principals and presidents of the Catholic schools in late July, Disney said they are looking forward to a new school year.

“They are excited to work with their outstanding teachers and staff,” he said. “They are excited to serve their students, parents and communities.”

During the meeting, the superintendent shared the three areas that are his focus for the school year. It starts with “Making Saints”—“evangelize hearts and catechize minds,” Disney said.

Next is “Preparing Citizens of Earth”—providing “excellent academics with living Gospel values and Catholic social teaching.”

The other focus is “Growing Every Day”—“spiritually, academically, emotionally and socially.”

Part of that meeting with principals and school presidents included a presentation called “Irresistibly Catholic” by Father Ronald Nuzzi, a nationally recognized leader in Catholic education.

“Father Nuzzi shared four great mysteries of the faith and how teaching, living and celebrating these mysteries is what makes our schools Catholic,” Disney said.

“The mysteries are the incarnation, the Trinity, the paschal mystery and the Eucharist. Father Nuzzi will present three more times this school year as we continue to champion our Catholic mission and identity.” †

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