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SARASOTA, Florida (LifeSiteNews) — As children in schools run by the Diocese of Venice (DOV), Florida, were asked to sit masked in classrooms all day, wealthy donors were treated to a swanky ball at the Ritz-Carlton, complete with dinner and dancing, all without a face mask in sight.

On February 5, the diocese hosted the “‘Together Again’ Catholic Charities Sarasota Ball” at the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel, overlooking Sarasota Bay.

Pictures from the event show attendees, including diocesan bishop Frank J. Dewane, freely mingling, dancing, and dining together without wearing face coverings or practicing any physical distancing.

“Together Again” Catholic Charities Sarasota Ball, February, 2022

At the beginning of the academic year, however, Fr. John Belmonte, S.J., the Superintendent of Catholic Education at DOV schools, implemented a face mask policy for the entire diocesan school district, requiring children within counties which report a coronavirus positivity test rate of ten percent or higher to wear face coverings while in school.

The policy was an optional decision made by Belmonte and is not required by the Florida Department of Health.

Last summer, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed an executive order to ensure that parents could continue to “make healthcare decisions for their minor children,” including the option to ditch face masks.

Owing to the order, parents in the DOV filed a lawsuit against the diocese over its mask policy in the fall of 2021.

The September lawsuit stated that the mask mandate “violates the Parents’ Bill of Rights [DeSantis’ executive order] because it violates the Plaintiffs’ rights to make health care decisions for their children, and it breaches the contractual relationship between the plaintiffs and the diocese, and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in that relationship.”

Despite DeSantis’ order, between February 7 and 11, just days after the fundraising ball, Belmonte enforced a mask policy on children in Lee County schools, apparently owing to a COVID positivity rate of 21 percent in the area.

A notification to parents stated that “any Catholic school located within the boundaries of the Diocese of Venice with a positivity rate above 10% … will require masks.” Continuing, the statement explained that “per the stipulation of our mask optional policy we will require face coverings indoors this upcoming week” throughout Lee County.

LifeSiteNews contacted the Diocese of Venice for comment on its decision to enforce masking children in schools and how this squares with the governor’s executive order, but received no reply before publication.

Disgruntled parents took to social media to air their outrage, complaining that diocesan administrators are applying a double standard.

Comments on the diocesan Facebook page, where pictures of the event were uploaded in celebration of the ball’s “huge success,” accused diocesan administrators of being “hypocrites.”

“Wow, such blatant hypocrisy the DOV is showcasing, having all these people together maskless all while forcing their students to wear masks to school,” one user lamented.

Another demanded: “Unmask our children! Let parents make this choice!”

Crisis Magazine Editor-In-Chief Eric Sammons lamented the apparent double standard on Twitter, drawing attention to the fact that public schools within diocesan boundaries do not require masks.

Despite Belmonte insisting that the goal of enforcing masks is “to provide a safe environment with appropriate protocols needed to ensure healthy, in-person learning,” mounting data shows that face masks not only provide “statistically insignificant” protection from contracting the novel coronavirus, but that they may do more harm than good.

Furthermore, children stand the least risk of suffering adverse health effects from COVID-19, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who found a “mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition such as leukemia” when they “analyze[d] approximately 48,000 children under 18 diagnosed with Covid in health-insurance data from April to August 2020.”

In response to the finding, lead researcher Dr. Marty Makary accused the CDC of basing its advocacy of school masking and COVID vaccination on “flimsy data.”

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday signed into law a ban on mandating masks in schools throughout the state, granting parents the freedom to “elect for [their] child to not wear a mask while on school property,” despite any school board mandates.

Youngkin described the ban as “a win for all Virginians.”