MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Mobile County Public School System will return to in-person learning Monday, Jan. 24.

Although COVID-19 cases continue to rise, MCPSS still does not require masks. On Jan. 3, Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Bernard Eichold sent a letter to school leaders, recommending masks be required.

The following day MCPSS Superintendent Chresal Threadgill sent parents a letter only recommending but not requiring masks. On Jan. 18, the MCPSS announced that students would move to virtual learning as more staff became sick from the virus, a county-wide staffing shortage.

Rena Phillips with MCPSS said she does not see the school system requiring the use of masks anytime soon.

“What we’re hoping for is that since we’ve been out of school for nine days that that has given our employees and students time to get better and that our schools will be able to operate more efficiently,” said Phillips. “Because that was the challenge that we were having we had a lot of our teachers, cafeteria workers, and other employees who were having to miss school because of COVID.”

Merry Bongardt is the parent of a 4th grader attending a Mobile County school and she said she doesn’t agree with the school system’s decision.

Bongardt said her health is at high-risk, and like many others, the possibility of contracting COVID-19 could be detrimental to their life. Giving students the option to wear masks makes the chance of contracting COVID-19 higher.

“I wish they’d bring the mandate back. I like the virtual but they need to be in school, but they also need to wear the masks,” said Bogardt.

As of Wednesday, the Mobile County Health Department reported 868 new COVID-19 cases.

MCPSS officials said all schools have been deeply sanitized and cleaned before students return.