As Catholic parents in Dallas put their kids to bed on August 9, they received a surprise email from the Dallas diocese informing them that face masks would be required for all students at diocesan schools the next day on the first day of school.
The letter cited the “clear and present danger for unvaccinated children” from the delta COVID variant as well as rising virus cases in Texas. The Diocese of Dallas Catholic Schools has about 15,000 students at 31 schools.
Several blindsided parents immediately complained. One father of four told The Daily Wire he was so “beside myself” he drove to his children’s diocesan school that same night hoping to find someone to speak to about the mandate even though it was the end of the day. Eventually he found the school pastor, who, he said, appeared “at least as frustrated” as he was.
Parents called and emailed the offices of Dallas Bishop Edward Burns and Superintendent Matthew Vereecke repeatedly before one dad finally got a response.
“It’s clear that we are not going to come to agreement on this,” Vereecke wrote in an August 12 email to Greg Morris, who has three children in diocese schools. “We understand that you disagree with the situation and the logic, and it doesn’t appear that further communication will be productive.”
At that point, Morris and two other fathers, Nicholas Kerr, who has two children in diocese schools, and another dad who requested anonymity organized a group of hundreds of like-minded parents to try to at least extract an explanation from the diocese regarding the mask mandate. Morris started a petition against the mandate that garnered nearly 1,500 signatures. The three dads even researched COVID numbers and crafted their own mask policy proposal and submitted it to the diocese. The proposal suggested that individual diocese schools be allowed to choose whether to make masks optional when the Dallas area has had seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID- 19 hospitalized patients falls below 15 percent of total hospital capacity.
“I said, I don’t even care what your policy is, to be honest. I just want to know what the policy is,” Morris told The Daily Wire. “Of course it fell on deaf ears.”
Meanwhile, a group of parents held several protests against the mask mandate. It was at one of these protests that a demonstrator held a sign calling on the bishop to stop the “child abuse” and raised the hackles of the diocese.
At that point, the diocese switched gears and began threatening to expel their children, the dads said, despite them having no connection to the sign. All three fathers were called in to meet with leadership at their children’s respective schools and warned that the diocese was considering expelling their kids if they did not back down on their opposition to the mask mandate, they said.
“Needless to say, this took us somewhat by surprise and left us shaken once we processed everything that evening,” Kerr said in a statement he says he read to St Monica’s leadership, adding that he feels his children are being “used as pawns” against him. “It feels very much like a Soviet-style purge is being initiated against our group.”
“I must admit, I am very disappointed to know that my 12-year-old is now being threatened to be kicked out of school when his parents haven’t done anything wrong and neither has he,” Morris wrote in a September 27 email to Prince of Peace leadership after the meeting. “It feels like we are being bullied because we are the face of opposition. I wouldn’t be disappointed if this was coming from a big company but when you are being intimidated by the Church, it really questions your faith and everything you believe in. I am saddened because you all know who we are and our reputation.”
“We will continue to advocate for our children,” Morris wrote. “If for some reason, you decide you want to kick us out, please share the section in the handbook that we have violated.”
The dads had taken pains to distance their group from certain parents they felt were too incendiary and to condemn those parents’ behavior. Meanwhile, parents on the other side of the mask debate were not always so courteous.
“I am so happy none of you are making decisions about my child’s school,” one apparently pro-mandate dad trolled a private Facebook group of parents against the mandate. His access to the group was later revoked.
The first comment in response was, “Welcome! No one is trying to make any decisions for other children. We do, however, want to be able to make a decision for our own children, as any parent should.”
Asked whether parents who opposed the mask mandate were threatened with expulsion, the diocese responded that some parents took actions that were “disruptive.”
“In a few instances, parents have gone beyond expressing their concerns to actions that are disruptive to the administration of our schools. This violates the agreement parents sign when they enroll their students in diocesan private schools,” the diocese said in a statement to The Daily Wire.
“The Diocese respects the rights of parents to disagree with our policies but expects parents and students to abide by those policies. To that end, at the beginning of the school year, when schools knew a mask policy would be in place, they offered a refund at that time to all families who felt they were not willing or able to support the policy,” the diocese said.
The diocese said it has responded to concerns and has provided parents with “detailed information” about the “background that led to the implementation” of the mask mandate. The mandate is based on the advice of health experts and is “consistent with what many other schools on a local and national level are doing,” the diocese said, adding that due to “continuing changing circumstances” it cannot provide a timeframe for a change to the mask policy.
“The Bishop also asked the pastors and principals to meet with parents at the local school level, which they have done on numerous occasions,” the diocese said.
One of the fathers criticized the diocese’s statement as “what you would expect, full of holes and inconsistencies.”
Morris and Kerr said this was the first they had heard about a refund.
“They have never cited any area of the school handbook which parents violated,” Morris noted.
Kerr emphasized that St. Monica’s told him expressly that it was the diocese, not the school, that had a problem with him and said no such “disruptive actions” charge was ever leveled at him.
A huge point of outrage for some parents is that the diocese does not allow even medical mask exemptions for children with breathing issues.
One dad’s son has been struggling with a hyperventilation issue that his parents felt would worsen if he were forced to wear a mask. Kerr said his seven-year-old son now comes home with headaches regularly, something that did not happen in the summer. The dad who drove to school the night the mandate was announced has a three-year-old son who has been in speech therapy every week all year. The child was struggling to learn from a teacher who was wearing a mask, and having him wear a mask too would only exacerbate his speech issues, his parents felt. That dad has pulled his children from diocese schools.
“They keep shifting the goalposts, changing the metric that they’re following. They don’t talk about hospitalizations anymore. They just talk about cases,” the dad said. “I think the direction this is going is that they’re going to be pushing for vaccine mandates.”
Last week, the diocese announced that it was relaxing masking rules for high school students at schools that have a 60% or higher vaccination rate. Cases at grade schools remain too high to relax masking, the diocese said, noting that elementary school children are still not eligible for the vaccine.
Meanwhile, masks are not required during Mass at churches in the diocese, and one school recently hosted a spaghetti dinner where hundreds of people did not wear masks or social distance in the same building where students are required to be masked at school during the day, one dad recalled.
The bishop himself was photographed giving a speech unmasked near unmasked children at a high school football game at Ford Center at The Star, an indoor stadium in Frisco.
“I’ve been disappointed. I feel like there’s only a few of us who are really willing to kind of express what an injustice this is,” the same dad said.