Archbishop Robert J. Carlson ordered all archdiocesan elementary and high schools to close March 18 to help limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. They will remain closed until April 6. The directive includes the cancellation of all extracurricular activities at the schools, including athletics.
The announcement was made as local leaders also announced a ban of public gatherings of more than 50 people in the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, and Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois.
The archdiocese joined 25 school districts in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis to announce closures jointly on March 15.
In a letter to priests and deacons, the archbishop wrote that the decision was made “after deep prayer with Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in cooperation with local and state government and health officials.”
The letter outlines solutions for digital learning platforms for schools to use during the closure. Assistance for children and families who rely on schools for meals will be coordinated through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s St. Louis Council and Catholic Charities of St. Louis. The Archbishop directed that school employees should be paid during the closure.
A press release from the 26 school districts states that “we know that closing our schools will have a significant impact on our families, but we also believe that strong, urgent action must be taken to prevent the spread of this disease and to protect lives.”
The release added that “our strength as a community is our greatest asset. In making this decision, we are working together to protect each other and slow the progression of COVID-19.”
The Archbishop’s mandate follows earlier directives that dispensed of the faithful’s obligation to attend Sunday Mass and suspended the distribution of Holy Communion via the chalice, suspended the physical exchange of the Sign of Peace, and encouraged the reception of the host in the hand only.
School principals are sending a letter to parents stating that because the health and safety of the people of the archdiocese is a priority, Archbishop Carlson sees this decision as the best path forward to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the communities of the archdiocese. The letter also will include information on preventing the spread of the illness.
School leadership continues to work with the Archdiocese of St. Louis and health officials to ensure the safety of the school population.
As of March 13, all Catholic Youth Apostolate CYC Sports games, practices, and activities were suspended. This included the cancellation of the remainder of the basketball season and archdiocesan playoffs. Because of the scheduling difficulties, in addition to the burden on parents and volunteers, the CYC does not anticipate re-scheduling playoffs. No CYC activities, including practices, are to be held through at least March 31.
Parents and others are urged to pray a prayer by Pope Francis from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The prayer is posted at archstl.org/coronavirus.