COLUMBIANA, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama health officials are urging schools to continue requiring masks despite a recent decline in COVID-19 cases. But the decision for school districts to require masks is in the hands of school leaders.

School leaders say they are seeing a downward trend in cases and they feel comfortable transitioning to making masks optional for students.

When the first school bell rang for students and staff in the Shelby County School district, masks were optional.

“When we saw that we had a high number of cases with COVID-19 toward the end of August we made the decision to make mask mandatory,” said Cindy Warner with Shelby County Schools.

This week the district is reporting 109 coronavirus cases among students and staff. Warner says cases are on a downward trend.

“So, we feel like it’s a safe time for us to go back to being masks optional,” he said.

This decision raises some red flags for the Alabama Department of Public Health. They are urging school districts to enforce universal masking.

“The science is really clear on this. Our recommendations have not changed on this. The governor stated over and over that the state is not going to mandate it, but every individual school board has the ability to do that people ought to be doing that whether your school board mandates that or not,” Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said.

ADPH says school districts should not let their guard down when it comes to COVID-19.

“We are still seeing a whole lot of cases the numbers as you mentioned we had about 3,800 cases reported this week compared to 6,300 last week. That’s 200% ahead of the same week a year ago,” Dr. Harris said.

SCS says they are standing by their decision to transition to making masks optional.

“We wanted to have a traditional school year as possible we wanted to go back to a sense of normalcy for our staff and students and now we want to go back to being able to make them optional and from my understand it’s our right to do so,” said Warner.

Warner says the district will still require masks on buses and they will continue their mitigation efforts when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing.