ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — During an hours-long meeting Thursday night, the Roanoke County School Board heard from both sides about the district’s mask mandate before making a decision that will go into effect by mid-February.

On Thursday, Jan. 27, many community members took to the podium who were either for or against the idea of masks being optional in schools.

Those who supported keeping student mask mandates in school say they are afraid of rising COVID-19 cases because more students and staff will be entering the building without masks.

“At work, when I am at work seeing COVID patients, including today, for nine to 10 hours with respirators and goggles for the entire shift, I am uncomfortable right now, being here with all of these unmasked people because I haven’t been around this many unmasked people in two years,” said a mother and healthcare worker.

Members of the opposing side say they are concerned about their children’s mental health and the damage that is being done to their social skills because of the masks.

“All I know is what happens to my child, and I have seen my son go from a very happy child with lots of social spunk and things to, you know inattentive, and he doesn’t have the ability to notice his other classmates in the wild like Kroger or out to dinner or whatever. You know most can’t notice them from other people, and that is because of the masks,” said a father who attended the meeting.

Then, shortly before 11 p.m. on Thursday, the school board voted 4-1 that wearing masks will become optional in Roanoke County Public Schools starting Feb. 14.