BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – On the eve of the first day of school for some K-12 students in our region, the debate continues for whether children should be required to wear masks in the classroom.

Masks are recommended in the classroom by the Jefferson County Department of Health and the CDC, but they’re not required. The current guidance may be confusing for you – and local doctors and parents want to help you make the best choice for your family to kick off the year.

“We’ve got one in each school, we’re going to have to pay a lot in gas this year,” parent Stephen Ingram said.

Ingram is getting ready to send his kids back to Homewood City Schools for the first time since the pandemic hit, but he worries because his youngest daughter can’t get a vaccine, doesn’t have a virtual option and does not have a mask requirement.

“I think the most frustrating thing now is we want to see our school board,” Ingram said. “We want to see our state and local officials putting that knowledge into action instead of acting like everything is back to normal.”

But not all parents want an official mandate from the local or state levels.

“Masks aren’t perfect, masks alone aren’t going to keep us from getting COVID, and honestly masks alone aren’t going to make COVID go away, but they are an easy, safe level of protection,” Dr. Matthew DeLaney said.

DeLaney works at the UAB Highlands ER and is a parent of 6 and 8 year old girls. Hopeful parents will voluntarily have their kids mask up if they’re unvaccinated. A mandate would be the last resort. 

“I’m not a fan of mandates in general, but if that’s the only way we’re going to get back to school safely, we’re going to have to do something,” DeLaney said. “We just can’t go with this approach of everyone individually pick what works for them because we know that masks don’t work if they aren’t used widely.”

Regardless of your masking choice, internal medicine Dr. Amy Illescas said you should ask for support from your teachers and other parents of kids in the classroom.  

“I think people have taken this to the extreme where if you wear a mask or don’t wear a mask, you’re making a statement, you’re siding with one side or the other and that’s not what this needs to be about,” Dr. Illescas said. “If you feel like it’s the right thing to do for your child even if it’s not required, then absolutely you should do it.”   

Dr. Illescas said we should expect a spike in COVID cases closer to September when everyone is back in the classroom, which would likely mean more deaths and hospitalizations, but she is hopeful it’ll be a lot less than last time with more people vaccinated. She will continue to monitor this with other doctors in our region.