EVANS, Ga. (WJBF) – Masking students is a controversial topic across the country and in the CSRA. Columbia County parents are reacting to a newly announced mask mandate for students.

Masks on or masks off? That’s now the debate going on among parents of many Columbia County students. Both sides say, they want what’s best for their kids.

“I’m going to make as much noise as I can,” one parent told us. “I sent an email to the principal and the assistant principal…”

Jody Kluskiewicz, another parent, told us “I’m not going to comply.”

A few parents we spoke with stand firm on their belief that masks on students for an eight hour day is not OK.

“We know it’s important for children to see the facial expressions of their teachers and their caregivers and they’re not getting that now,” Kluskiewicz said.

The mother has one student in the district and she said she’s very concerned about all day mask wearing impacting her child long term emotionally, psychologically and socially.

And another parent took to the internet, creating a Change.org petition, appealing to Governor Brian Kemp and other school leaders. Columbia County School officials announced in a letter the “numbers of reported positive cases continue to increase.” So, face coverings will be required for all students and staff, including those who are vaccinated.

“They’ve asked for her to mask on the bus,” Kluskiewicz said. She’s on the bus for like a half an hour. I don’t mind in short instances. But for a child to wear something on their face like that for 7-8 hours a day and sneeze in it and drool in it.”

“It’s not the masks that we are against,” another parent exclaimed. “It is that our parental choice for our children is being taken away from us, being mandated to us by school boards and superintendents and state governments and local governments.”

Parents on both sides also spoke during a school board meeting Tuesday night.

Parent Marchonda Sanders told NewsChannel 6, “Why not try everything you can to try and keep the next child or student or teacher from getting sick?”

Rachel Morris, who has a child a Stallings Island Middle School, said she feels the masks mandate should have happened when school started.

“The children are the most vulnerable. So we know that the virus has variants. And we know that individuals who are vaccinated are getting it. OK. But, the kids cannot get vaccinated, 12 and under. And even the ones who can may not have been vaccinated long enough,” she said adding that some parents are relying on non scholarly reading materials and YouTube for COVID information.

Some parents will take part in a protest Thursday from 4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at the Columbia County Board of Education in Evans.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps