Diocese of Covington reverses course, imposes mask mandate on all schools

Fog covers Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky., Saturday, Jan 19, 2019.  (AP...
Fog covers Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky., Saturday, Jan 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)(KFYR)
Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 4:10 PM EDT
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CAMPBELL COUNTY, Ky. (WXIX) - The Diocese of Covington will impose a mask mandate for all its 37 schools effective Tuesday, Sept. 7.

In doing so, the Diocese is stepping over the bones of a federal restraining order granted just last month that exempted it―and it alone―from a statewide mask order then in effect.

The Diocese announced the mask mandate on Friday in a letter sent to parents, several paragraphs of which are dedicated to asking for kindness and understanding.

The full letter can be found at the end of this story.

Superintendent Kendra McGuire justified the mandate as a way to maintain in-person instruction as cases spread, something districts across Ohio and Indiana are considering as well.

“This is based on our experiences last year with COVID-19 cases and the rising case activity in our region,” McGuire explained. “During the 2020-2021 school year, we saw an increase in positive student cases following long weekends or holidays where people often gather. We also know that the higher the community rates, the more impacts we will see in our schools.”

McGuire says the Diocese is seeing more children experience fevers with COVID-19 this school year, a possible result of the delta variant, which appears to impact children more than the original virus.

Reversing Course

The Diocese’s mask mandate represents a strange twist in the legal saga surrounding Gov. Andy Beshear’s statewide pandemic orders including the mask mandate he imposed on all Kentucky schools―public and private―Aug. 10.

Parents in the Diocese sued to challenge the order, and on Aug. 19 a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order narrowly exempting schools in the Diocese.

That federal ruling came as three cases with state claims were matriculating through the Kentucky court system.

The cases presented subtly different challenges to Beshear’s pandemic orders, but they all hinged on statutes passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2021 that limited the governor’s ability to issue pandemic orders premised on his emergency powers.

In particular, Senate Bill 1 provided that, once a state of emergency has expired, the governor cannot declare a new emergency “based on the same or substantially similar facts and circumstances as the original declaration or implementation without the prior approval of the General Assembly.”

SB1 also limits executive orders restricting the functioning of certain institutions (but particularly schools) to 30 days unless extended by the General Assembly.

In granting the restraining order, the federal judge said it would be “tyranny” to allow the executive branch to “simply ignore laws passed by the duly-elected representatives” of Kentucky.

That ruling presaged an opinion of the Kentucky Supreme Court issued days later that found the General Assembly properly exercised its powers in passing SB1.

The nuanced opinion did not strictly rule on the constitutionality of SB1. Instead, it found the governor was not sufficiently harmed in a legal sense by the General Assembly’s passage of SB1 to grant standing in the suit.

The ruling had an indirect impact on the governor’s mask mandate of Aug. 10, which Beshear rescinded in a good-faith gesture the following day.

That means the federal restraining order previously in effect for the Diocese is null in void.

>> Beshear could call special session on COVID restrictions, NTI days as early as Tuesday

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