San Diego County

‘Shepherds, Not Sheep': Parents Ask Diocese to Ease Indoor Mask Requirement at Catholic Schools

A group of parents whose kids attend Catholic schools in San Diego County are pressuring the diocese to let students go mask-free on campus. Bishop Robert McElroy said schools will abide by state and county guidelines and "error on the side of safety."

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A group of frustrated parents whose children attend Catholic schools in San Diego County rallied in front of the Diocese of San Diego, upset because their kids are being forced to wear face masks indoors at school.

At the end of the rally, the group marched to the entrance of the diocesan pastoral center and were met by Bishop Robert McElroy, who paid the group an impromptu visit.

“What about these kids’ mental health?” asked parent Alexandra Gabbard.

“Well, of course, I’m very interested in mental health,” responded Bishop McElroy.

Moments earlier, Gabbard was part of a rally held at the diocese entrance with dozens of other parents and their children, many of whom held homemade signs.

The parents are part of a grassroots group called Unmask the Children SD. A rally flyer said the group was asking for the diocese to “take a moral stance in protecting our children, calling them to be shepherds instead of sheep.” They’re asking for parental choice when it comes to wearing face masks.

“Everyone’s so afraid. They’re afraid, everyone’s fearful, afraid. Stop being afraid, they’re kids,” said Joe Jones.

Jones isn’t swayed by a recent increase in COVID-19 cases triggered by the delta variant.

“The delta variant and COVID, oh, my gosh, it’s like you have a better chance of being struck by lightning, two times in your lifetime than a kid even dying or being hospitalized for COVID,” said Jones.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the group argued face masks are not effective.

“They keep saying these kids are resilient, these kids are resilient, but you know what, why they’ve been busy being resilient, mental health issues have skyrocketed, our kids grades have plummeted, and our kids deserve better,” said Gabbard, whose children attend Our Lady of Grace in El Cajon.

The diocese will continue to follow guidelines set forth by the state and county, Bishop McElroy said.

According to the diocese web page, these orders are not “recommendations,” but are legal requirements under the California Health and Safety Code for any public or private school that provides in-person instruction.

“All of the medical indications are that it’s an important and prudent step especially with the variants going around. Things are getting worse, not better, and thus we want to error on the side of safety here, and the health of the children. We have to protect one another. We have to error on that side," said Bishop McElroy.

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