NEWARK, New Jersey — Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Newark have provided stability and consistency for students and their families during a global pandemic that has upended everyday life.
This was the message from Msgr. Thomas McDade, vicar for education/interim superintendent of schools for Newark, in an interview he gave Jersey Catholic, the archdiocesan online news site, ahead of celebrating Catholic Schools Week Jan. 30-Feb. 5 with the rest of the nation.
“We have provided stability in this storm called COVID,” McDade said. “It’s raged through our towns and communities, but we have been a stable force.”
He said that stability is needed amid the uncertainty caused by new virus variants, changes in the public response to COVID-19, and the political divide over vaccinations.
“Stability is what we need to provide students with a solid education with values — stability from their parents, and their families, and the church. I think we’ve done that. We have done tremendous things here.”
Following the pandemic lockdown in the spring of 2020, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Newark switched to in-person instruction in September 2020 from virtual classrooms. This was possible because of a mask mandate instituted at the beginning of the 2020 school year and the current vaccination-or-test policy for staff.
McDade applauded the teachers and staff at the 74 archdiocesan elementary and high schools for fostering a safe educational environment for 23,000 students. Without this cooperation, he said, the whole thing would fall apart.
“Teachers have been heroic through all this,” the school leader said. “They are wearing masks, getting their shots, following the executive orders. They’ve been great.”
Likewise, parents are appreciated for enduring mask regulations and carefully following quarantine protocols in the event of exposure.
“Parents have been super at realizing that we’re all in this together,” said McDade. “I just can’t imagine going through this again.”
He also thanked leadership at the archdiocesan level, including the associate superintendents, and noted the consistent support of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark throughout the pandemic.
Often overlooked are school nurses.
“I’ll sing out to them too,” McDade said of school health personnel. “Regulations are constantly changing, and nurses have developed relationships with their local boards of health. We work with our compatriots in public schools. Our responsibility is the health and safety of the children, and that’s why we’re strict on the masking.”
There are critics regarding pandemic precautions, McDade admitted. But when it comes to the school community, most everyone has been on board.
“By and large, we’ve been pretty unified on this,” he said. “When people are on board, that’s always good for education. When people are cooperating and working together, they have the best interests of the children at heart.”
It is vital that pastors and Catholic school leaders educate vaccine naysayers, he said.
“The pope has said vaccinations are a sign of love. It’s important for people to realize that we’re getting vaccinated for each other, and we require vaccinations or testing in our schools for the health and safety of children and teachers,” McDade said.
“It’s the principle of the common good, which is what our country was built on. That flows from our moral theology,” he added.
Fostering a safe environment in the classroom allows staff to focus on what matters most: a quality Catholic school education.
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Agnish is communications manager for the Archdiocese of Newark.