VANCOUVER -- Concerns over B.C.'s back to school plan has tens of thousands signing an online petition against a mandatory return to in-class instruction. It comes as other provinces also make masks mandatory for older grades and staff, but not B.C.

Keturah Walton still isn't sure what her family is going to do in the fall.

Her eldest daughter has a rare auto immune disorder, and Walton herself has Crohn's disease and asthma. She doesn't feel sending her daughters back to school is an option under the province's current plan, which is for most students to be in class full-time.

"I'm fearful. I felt like a bomb has been dropped," Walton said. "I feel that we're just turning into guinea pigs and seeing what happens. We don't know enough, it's a pandemic, we need to be more careful."

Walton is one of the more than 14,000 people now supporting an online petition calling for in-class instruction to be voluntary, which was started by parent Edmond Luk.

"Individual families should have the choice and the right to make that decision based on their individual circumstances," Luk said.

CTV News requested an interview with Education Minister Rob Fleming, but was told he was unavailable.

The province said parents who do not want their children physically in school can register for online or distributed learning based on availability, or home-schooling.

In an email to CTV, the education ministry said: "We are encouraging parents to enrol their children as they normally would and will continue to work to build their confidence in the safe restart of in-class learning."

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said while everyone has anxiety about the virus, there are important things children can only get from the classroom setting.

"Currently, we have a framework that we are confident means will keep people safe," Dr. Henry said, and added more details will be released on a school by school basis in the near future.

She also said B.C. is not looking at following other provinces like Alberta and Ontario by making masks mandatory for some students in school.

"I actually don't believe there's evidence to support mask wearing by children in the classroom setting," Dr. Henry said.

Walton was hoping her children could continue with an online learning model connected to their school as they did in late spring.

"A lot of the home school companies and the distance learning situations are all filled," she said, and added she doesn't want to withdraw her children from their current school, which they love, to attempt home schooling herself. "I'm not a teacher. I don't have those skills."

She said she wants families to have a say, instead of feeling forced into a situation which for some, doesn't feel safe.

"I know parents are losing sleep over this," Walton said. "We have to protect our kids, we have to protect our families."