Dozens of parents protest Diocese of St. Augustine schools’ mask mandate

One church leader told Action News Jax the decision goes beyond faith.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — A group of parents gathered along Old St. Augustine Road to protest the Diocese of St. Augustine Schools for making masks mandatory indoors for students.

The Catholic diocese oversees 38 schools across seven counties with 13,000 people on campus every day. It announced this decision on Monday evening, and classes started on Wednesday.

A group of roughly 70 parents and their children gathered outside the Diocese of Saint Augustine to demand change.

Maria Allegretto is the mom of a 7th grader who says she was caught off guard when the notice went out on Monday with school starting Wednesday.

“I don’t want to negate anyone else’s choice to have a mask,” Allegretto said.

“I chose to go to a private school because I don’t want my son to do that and the choices that take your son out of school if you feel that strongly,” she added.

But the diocese says this changed because Governor DeSantis’ executive order letting parents decide whether to have their children wear masks does not apply to private schools.

“Our policy was able to be changed,” said Deacon Scott J. Conway.

Allegretto believes masks go against teaching faith over fear.

“We are teaching children to be afraid of the air that they breathe,” Allegretto said.

But Deacon Conway says it goes beyond faith.

“For us, it’s about safety and we have 13,000 souls on our campus each day,” Conway pointed out. That number also includes 11,000 students.

“Masks are a temporary solution to a temporary problem,” he elaborated. “As soon as we can get beyond this surge in the COVID-19, we will go back to an optional mask. We would prefer to go back without masks, but I don’t believe that masks are attached to our faith.”

The threshold for the diocese to consider making masks optional is at least a 10% case positivity rate in counties where its schools are located, like Duval County.

But the Florida Department of Health reports that between July 30 and August 6, Duval County had a 25.4% new case positivity rate.

The CDC currently recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Allegretto disagrees with the CDC, and when asked where she gets her information, she responded, “I get information from all kinds of sources online just like everybody else does,” Conway said.

“I believe that social media and a lot of different outlets are publishing information from different doctors, different scientists.” “We are really trying to go off of scientists that are grounded by the Florida Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control,” he explained.

Although the diocese can receive parent feedback via email or phone, it recommends parents get in touch with their school principal with any concerns to get a quicker response that is more geared towards their child’s specific learning environment.

You can read the COVID-19 safety protocols issued to parents on Monday here: www.dosaeducation.org/covid-19.