Following policies enacted by Maryland and District of Columbia leaders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Archdiocese of Washington announced on May 8 that it is extending closures of its Catholic school campuses in those jurisdictions for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. 

The Archdiocese of Washington includes 93 Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., and in the five surrounding Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery.

In a May 8 letter emailed to parents of children attending the archdiocese’s Catholic schools in Maryland and Washington, D.C., William Ryan III – the Archdiocese of Washington’s secretary for Catholic schools, said, “Our priority is the health and safety of all who are in our school communities. Public officials in all regions have announced the closure of school until the end of the year. In compliance with these orders, all archdiocesan school campuses are closed through the end of the school year. Distance learning will continue through the end of your school’s previously planned academic year.”

In that letter, Ryan also noted, “I know this news is disappointing to our students and school communities but we must make decisions that are in the best interests of our students, families, staff, and administrators. This week, we started working with school principals to plan for the day that the stay-at-home order is lifted. Principals and staff are now working behind the scenes to plan for virtual end-of-year events that help hold our communities together, while apart. These celebrations are so important to all of us, a community, and will hopefully ease the disappointment of not being together, in person.”

On May 6, Karen B. Salmon, the state superintendent of schools for Maryland, announced the closure of the state’s public schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. She said that decision was made following extensive discussions with the Maryland State Board of Education, the Maryland Health Department and health experts advising Gov. Larry Hogan. 

“I am convinced this is the appropriate decision in order to continue to protect the health and safety of our students, educators, staff and all members of school communities throughout Maryland,” Salmon said in the announcement. 

On April 17, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that all D.C. public schools would remain closed and students would continue receiving online learning at home through the end of the school year on May 29, 2020. Salmon had earlier extended the time for the closure of Maryland public schools from April 24 through May 15.

In the District of Columbia, Mayor Bowser had extended her declaration of a public health emergency, a stay at home order, and the closure of non-essential businesses through May 15. Maryland Gov. Hogan has likewise issued a state of emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, and issued stay at home orders, mandated the closing of non-essential businesses and limits on the sizes of public gatherings.

In a March 12 statement from the Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory had announced that in response to public health recommendations from local government leaders regarding the potential spread of coronavirus, Masses open to the public in all archdiocesan parishes, missions and campus ministries would not be celebrated until further notice, starting Saturday March 14. He said weddings and funerals could proceed but should be limited to immediate family.

Archbishop Gregory also issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass during this time to all parishioners of the Archdiocese of Washington, and since then, most parishes have been livestreaming or recording Masses.

Following public safety directives made by Maryland and D.C. public officials, Archbishop Gregory had announced that all Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington would be closed from March 16 through March 27. In late March, the archdiocese announced that its Catholic schools would remain closed through April 24, and on that day, Ryan announced to parents that the Catholic school closures would be extended through May 15 in Maryland and through the end of the school year in the District of Columbia in compliance with the public safety measures ordered by local government officials. 

Then in the May 8 letter to parents, Ryan announced that all of the archdiocese’s Catholic school campuses would remain closed through the rest of the 2019-20 school year, following Salmon’s announcement that public schools in Maryland would remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Following government mandates aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Catholic archdioceses and dioceses across the United States have canceled public Masses and closed Catholic school campuses for the time being.

Since the announced closures, local Catholic schools have engaged in distance learning with students who have continued their learning at home.

The Archdiocese of Washington’s May 8 and April 24 announcements on the extension of the closures of its Catholic schools affected parish elementary schools and early learning centers and the archdiocesan high schools, Archbishop Carroll in Washington, D.C., and Don Bosco Cristo Rey in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Independent Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding Maryland counties, most of which are sponsored by religious orders, likewise announced they would be closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, and those schools also announced plans for online learning for students at this time. The websites for those independent schools include updated information on their closures and distance learning programs.

Also in his May 8 letter to parents of children attending the archdiocese’s Catholic schools, Ryan said, “During the coronavirus crisis, I have been very impressed with your school communities. You have come together and allowed the students to flourish during a difficult time. During this week of teacher appreciation, I wanted to share my appreciation and applaud all of our teachers for their efforts to support your children. We are blessed to have so many incredible teachers.”

In that letter, Ryan also thanked parents for the “encouragement that families have offered to school administrators, teachers and staff,” saying that continues to uplift and motivate the educators at local Catholic schools during this period of distance learning for students. 

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a global pandemic. As of that day, the Washington Post reported that more than 125,000 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed worldwide, causing more than 4,600 deaths, and the United States had more than 1,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in 39 states, with more than 30 deaths. Most fatal incidences of the coronavirus have involved the elderly or people with underlying medical conditions.  

Nearly two months later, The Washington Post reported on May 8 that the United States, now the epicenter for the outbreak of the virus, had more than 76,000 deaths from COVID-19 and 1.275 million diagnosed cases. The Post noted that worldwide, more than 3.9 million people have been infected with the coronavirus, and more than 270,000 have died of the disease worldwide. And the Post reported that as of May 7, there were more than 2,500 COVID-19 deaths and more than 56,000 diagnosed cases in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Founded in 1939, the Archdiocese of Washington is home to more than 655,000 Catholics who worship in 139 parishes located  in Washington, D.C., and the five surrounding Maryland counties of Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s. Nearly 27,000 students attend the 93 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. Catholic Charities of the archdiocese is the largest non-public social service organization in the region, serving nearly 143,000 people each year.

The Archdiocese of Washington has a special web page at adw.org/coronavirus offering the latest updates on the situation.