Masks are now optional for people attending and working at Manhattan Catholic Schools.

MCS Principal Mike Hubka told The Mercury the updated mask policy took effect Monday. Employees at any MCS or Seven Dolors parish property are "highly recommended" to a mask. Parents and visitors to MCS or Seven Dolors buildings are still required to wear masks.

This decision is a change from the MCS reopening plan approved in August that included a mask requirement for all students, staff and visitors. Other COVID-19 protocols such as hand sanitizing stations and physical distancing (when applicable) remain in place. Hubka said he wears a mask, even though he is fully vaccinated, to support those who continue wearing them.

Hubka said a survey of faculty and staff conducted in the past two weeks indicated many were supportive of making masks a recommendation. He said MCS started the school year with masks required because of the uptick in local COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant of the virus.

“We wanted to start the school year as safely as possible,” Hubka said.

Hubka said the decision to make masks optional came after consulting with the nine-person council of education, the school's bishop and both the pastors of Seven Dolors and St. Thomas More. 

MCS does not have a school board voted on by the public. The council meetings are open to the public, and Hubka said there were several individuals who voiced both support and opposition to making masks a recommendation and not a requirement.

The mask decision at MCS falls in line with other schools in the Salina Diocese that have implemented mask-optional protocols. Hubka said he feels “like we’re working in accordance with what’s out there” in terms of masking rules, and that this current policy is subject to change depending on changes in virus conditions.

“We’re going to definitely continue to monitor the situation,” Hubka said. “If we need to reinstate masks for everybody, we will do that.”

Hubka said all schools across the Salina Diocese are monitoring coronavirus trends in their respective cities. He said there have been only two quarantine cases since school started in August, and only one of those people tested positive for the virus. Hubka sends an email to MCS parents each week that includes coronavirus data, but the MCS website does not feature a COVID-19 data dashboard like what the Manhattan-Ogden School District uses.

USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden’s current policy is that everyone must wear masks indoors in district facilities, regardless of vaccination status. That policy is in effect until Oct. 22, though the board is expected to revisit the policy before that date.