Catholic school principal makes masks optional, defying Archdiocese — and leading to his ouster
Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius said the mask-optional policy was best for students’ social and emotional well-being, but officials later rescinded his policy and placed him on administrative leave.
A principal at an Evergreen Park Catholic school declared to parents and staff that masks will be optional beginning Tuesday, but the change was quickly struck down by the Archdiocese of Chicago — and the principal was placed on leave.
M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius, principal at Queen of Martyrs Catholic School, said in a letter that the decision to lift a mask requirement was made with “tremendous amount of thought and reflection and in the face of what I expect to be swift retribution by the Office of Catholic Schools in the form of termination.”
“To those who might suggest that I have ‘caved’ to one side versus the other, let me assure you that absolutely nothing could be further from the truth,” Mathius wrote. “Never would I presume to put my professional life on the line merely to appease someone ... or any particular group of individuals.”
The new policy was sent to parents and posted on the school’s Facebook page Tuesday morning. However, the post with the letter was taken down several hours later.
“Our current COVID-19 mitigation policies remain in place in all Archdiocese of Chicago schools, including Queen of Martyrs,” a spokesperson with the archdiocese said. “Children who arrive without a mask will be offered one and if they refuse it, they will be isolated in a separate room and their parents will be called to pick them up.”
Mathius updated parents Tuesday with a letter saying he was stripped of his duties pending an investigation.
“Before I lose administrative rights to this platform, I want to let you know that I have been placed on administrative leave until the Office of Catholic Schools leadership acts,” Mathius’ letter said. “Presumably to terminate me.”
Mathius went on to thank those who supported him in his decision to remove the mask mandate but urged he wasn’t the “central figure” in this fight.
About 200 students and parents protested his ouster outside the school Tuesday afternoon. They held signs calling the principal a “hero” and saying, “We Are Done!”
Mathius could not be reached for comment.
He became principal of Queen of Martyrs in the summer of 2020. Before that, he worked at Brother Rice High School for 43 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The principal insisted in the initial letter that reversing the school’s mask mandate was in the best interests of the students.
“I have reached this determination as I perceive ... that the social-emotional toll that continuing COVID protocols have taken on many of our students have become more toxic than the COVID virus itself,” Mathius said. “I am in a position to control what I can control in regard to this question, and what I can control is relieving the burden of children wearing a covering over their faces, many of whom cannot remember a time when they attended school without having to do so.”
Mathius was also critical of the Office of Catholic Schools for not updating its mask mandate when “so many school districts both in our state, as well as states nationwide” have.
The controversy in Evergreen Park comes as a downstate judge on Friday temporarily lifted Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order mandating all Illinois districts require masks in schools.
Chicago Public Schools immediately responded saying it would continue to require them and other COVID-19 protocols, as did the Archdiocese.
But some suburban districts, including Mt. Prospect School District 57, made masks optional this week in the week of the ruling, WBEZ reported.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul has since filed a motion to halt enforcement of the judge’s temporary restraining order.