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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Masks will be optional at Assumption, Saint Xavier and Sacred Heart high schools starting Monday.

The three Archdiocese of Louisville schools announced plans to make masks optional for students inside schools Monday, though a federal mandate for face coverings on school buses remains in place.

Masks will be optional at Mercy Academy starting Jan. 3, according to a message to families.

"Our December calendar includes high-volume events, some of which involve guests who are considered at high-risk," Mercy Academy said in a letter to families.

Holy Cross High School made masks optional on Tuesday.

"This decision resulted from several meetings with the other Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese as well as continued review of the decline in positive cases both in Jefferson County and in our school community," Katy Buerger, director of enrollment and marketing for Holy Cross, said in an email Thursday.

"Anyone who is not fully vaccinated will continue to wear a mask during the school day. Administration will review state, city and school community data every Thursday in order to determine the mask policy for the following week and communication will be sent to families every Friday afternoon with the decision for the upcoming week."

Assumption High School President Mary Lang said in an email Thursday to WDRB News that the school will move to optional indoor masking after consulting with the archdiocese and “in conjunction with several other area Catholic schools.” Saint Xavier, in its letter to families announcing the policy change, said it was also joining other area Catholic schools in the move.

Other archdiocesan high schools did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on changes to their indoor masking policies.

In a joint letter to Assumption families, Land and Principal Martha Tedesco “strongly” recommended that unvaccinated students continue to wear masks. More than 70% of Assumption students and all staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19, they said in the letter.

The school has reported no new COVID-19 cases in the past five weeks, according to the letter.

“While some may question the move to a mask optional policy at this time, especially with a new variant on the horizon, what we know for certain is that while COVID remains unpredictable, this pandemic isn’t going away any time soon, and we will likely be moving back and forth between masks being optional and required while we continue to navigate these uncertain times,” Lang and Tedesco said in the letter.

Mercy also recommends masking for those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to its message to families. More than 70% of Mercy students have been vaccinated, the message says.

Cecelia Price, chief communications officer for the archdiocese, said Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Bowling had not reached a decision about changing masking policies for Catholic elementary schools. Bowling sets COVID-19 protocols for those students, Price said.

“Some Catholic high schools are announcing a mask-optional protocol in the coming weeks,” she said in a message to WDRB News.

In their letters to families, Assumption and Saint Xavier noted their masking policies may change as conditions warrant based on updated guidance from the Archdiocese of Louisville. Both schools will use attendance and classroom COVID-19 cases as an indicator of such changes, they said.

Saint Xavier told families it will require masks if 20% of their weekly absentee rates are because of COVID-19 illnesses, and students in classrooms with three or more active coronavirus cases will be required to wear masks for 10 days after the last exposure to a COVID-19 case unless they are vaccinated and asymptomatic.

COVID-19 incidence rates of 50 or more daily positive cases per 100,000 residents based on a seven-day average in Jefferson County may prompt the Archdiocese of Louisville to require returning to indoor masking, Saint Xavier said in the message to families.

Assumption also noted the possibility of a call for indoor masking if COVID-19 cases surge in Jefferson County. As of Wednesday, Jefferson County averaged 28.5 daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the last week.

"A cluster in a classroom or a rise in cases within the school will necessitate a change to our mask policy," Lang and Tedesco said in the letter to Assumption families. "Each Friday we will review daily attendance and make a determination if a move to masks schoolwide is required for the following week."

Assumption and Saint Xavier also announced plans to enact “test-to-stay” programs to limit the number of students in quarantine after possible exposure to those with COVID-19.

A similar program has been in place at Jefferson County Public Schools, which requires indoor masking.

At Assumption, students who participate in "test-to-stay" must test negative for COVID-19 each day via rapid tests administered at the school before they can return to classes and must wear masks inside the school during their quarantine period. The program only covers classroom activities, and students cannot participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities, according to the letter from Lang and Tedesco.

Saint Xavier's "test-to-stay" program covers both in-person instruction and extracurricular activities, and the school will administer COVID-19 tests each morning for participants during their quarantine periods, according to the school's website. Like Assumption, Saint Xavier will require participants to wear masks inside the school.

Vaccinated and asymptomatic students at Assumption and Saint Xavier do not need to quarantine under the schools' COVID-19 protocols.

This story may be updated.

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