Parents protest mask mandate in Gwinnett County Public Schools

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A group of parents gathered to protest Gwinnett County Schools mask policy ahead of the start of the school year next week.

Channel 2′s Tony Thomas was at the “Unmask Our Children” protest in front of the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center Friday evening.

Parents held signs protesting the district’s decision to make masks mandatory when school resumes on Aug. 4. Some parents told Thomas that they just want a choice.

“There are so many reasons why we shouldn’t be mandating masks for children,” Emily Fields, a mother of five, said. “It’s not just the masks. It’s the principle behind wearing the mask, honestly.”

The group of parents spent months trying to get their children back in school and then for masks to be optional.

With the Delta variant spreading and changing CDC guidance, Gwinnett leaders put a mask mandate in place earlier this week.

“The facts and recommendations are clear. Masks do make a difference and we must do all we can to keep students in school, in person,” superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said in a news release Tuesday.

Wilbanks is in his final month as Superintendent in Gwinnett County.

On Friday, Gwinnett County Board of Education unanimously approved Dr. Calvin J. Watts as the next superintendent of the district.

Protesters say they hope Watts will make masks optional.

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School leaders said they will follow their health advisors. Parents were pleased with the decision to mandate masks.

“It makes it feel a little more comfortable because it’s not only going to be a class of 30 kids where 10 are wearing masks,” parent Ashley Suter said. “All of them will be wearing masks.”

As the summer winds down, officials said that 83,000 of the district’s 180,000 students are still not eligible for the vaccine.

“Even though young children may not be getting ill, which is something we hear all the time, they can still spread the virus,” Sloan Roach with Gwinnett County schools said.

Parents have until Monday to switch their in-person or digital learning options if they want to.

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“We realize this does not allow families a lot of time to make this decision, but we must have this information by this date to ensure schools are staffed appropriately to serve students and student schedules are finalized prior to the start of school,” Wilbanks said.

Fields said she knows her kids would be willing to wear a mask, they just wouldn’t understand why.

“They don’t understand the reasoning behind the masks and why mommy is so passionate against the masks,” Fields said.