JENNINGS – A Jennings mother has launched an online petition to nix face masks requirements for students when they return to school this fall in Jeff Davis Parish.

Nikki Brunt Hebert, the mother of a local eighth grader and a special needs fourth grader who now attends a private school, who started the petition Monday said parents and students should have a choice whether or not to wear face masks when schools reopen in August.

"I am absolutely not against masks, in my opinion, it should be one's choice if they feel the need to wear one, especially a parents' choice if they feel their child needs one," Hebert said.

Hebert said she has received a lot of support from parents and teachers who have reached out to her with the same concerns.

"We need to take into consideration all kids and what is best for all," she said. "It's your choice as a parent if you feel the mask will help and protect your child at school and it's your choice if you decide your child should not wear one at school."

The petition, which has gathered more than 355 signatures as of Tuesday, aims to get the attention of Jeff Davis Parish School Board Superintendent Kirk Credeur, which recently outlined plans to reopen schools Aug. 14 under guidelines issued by the Louisiana Department of Education and Louisiana Department of Health.

Among those guidelines is a requirement that adults and students third grade and up should wear face coverings, as able, to the maximum extent possible as a way to stem the coronavirus spread. Any child over the age of two may wear a face covering.

The guideline also recommends that the face coverings should be worn in all areas of the school including classrooms, during arrival, dismissal and any other transition within the school building. Individuals with severe breathing difficulties should not wear face coverings.

"If the Louisiana Department truly believes that the virus is so bad that we must send our children to school only two days a week, staying six feet apart, eating lunches alone, mandatory face masks, etc…..than we shouldn't be sending these children back to school at all," Hebert said. "The school needs to come up with some type of virtual learning system until it is safe and clear to get back into a normal day of school."

Hebert feels that masks come with their own health risk.

In addition, Hebert said she sees the masks becoming a distraction for not only the students, but also for the teachers who already have plenty to deal with.

"There are also kids that require special attention," she said. "I have a nephew that wears a hearing aid, reads lips mostly at school in order to learn. How will this be possible if both teachers and classmates are wearing masks covering their mouths?"

Hebert said she has nothing against those who choose to wear a mask.

"If it is what's best for you than by all means," she said. "We could sit here and look up 100 articles or posts by medical professionals, friends and family that all recommend masks, and we can look at another 100 that say masks are not recommended," she said. "We are at a point where we don't know who or what to believe. Therefore, let it be one's choice."

Many of those who signed the petition and left comments said masks are not effective against the virus and can cause other health problems. Others said mask wearing is not a law and should not be mandatory.

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