Brady Pearce (left) and Angel Nguyen, both first-graders at St. Brigid's School in Portland follow along in prayer with Rev. Paul Sullivan on Wednesday, Feb. 2. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Catholic elementary and high schools across the state are planning to lift mask requirements for students on March 7.

The decision to nix the mandate on March 7 will allow schools a buffer since the end of February break, which starts on Feb. 21, to help avoid an influx of COVID-19 cases as students return to classes, according to Marianne Pelletier, superintendent of Maine Catholic Schools.

The mask requirement could be reinstated in the event that cases surge in the future, Pelletier said.

Students and teachers will not be discouraged from wearing masks if they wish to continue doing so.

The announcement comes after Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah on Wednesday said that the Maine Department of Education would consider dropping the mask recommendation for schools after February break.

Masks are not mandatory at all Maine schools, and requirements are set at the discretion of each school district.

The variance in protocols has caused some frustrations, after a basketball tournament between Isleborough and Temple Academy was canceled due to conflicting mask requirements. The matchup is the only known instance of a game being canceled due to differing mask mandates.

Prior to the start of the 2021-22 basketball season, state agencies tasked with establishing protocols for Maine school athletics strongly recommended that all indoor sports require athletes wear masks but came short of mandating them.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misrepresented when February vacation for students ends. It will end on Feb. 28, and Maine Catholic Schools plan to lift mask mandates on March 7, one week after the end of February vacation.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.