Thousands sign teenager's petition calling for mandatory masks in schools
VANCOUVER -- Thousands of people have signed a B.C. teenager's petition calling on the government to make masks mandatory when school returns next month.
Richmond high school student Victor Lam's Change.org petition has been signed more than 2,600 times since it was created four days ago, and a recent survey suggests there's widespread support for a mandatory mask policy among B.C. parents.
Asked about the petition on Tuesday, Education Minister Rob Fleming said the government is considering tweaks to its current guidelines, which only require high school students to wear masks on buses.
"We're looking at some of the additional considerations coming from the Canadian medical health officer around things like common areas, and where kids are outside of their learning groups temporarily, and where they may not be able to keep physical distancing," Fleming said.
There's no sign B.C. will require masks in classrooms, however. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has questioned the usefulness of forcing children to wear masks in classroom settings as recently as Monday.
"There's very little evidence that that is a measure that's going to protect people," she said during her last COVID-19 briefing. "We also know that masks can interfere with the ability to learn, so I think there's a lot more that we need to understand."
She did suggest masks could be useful in hallways and other areas where physical distancing isn't possible.
Lam told CTV News his family has been concerned about COVID-19 risks since learning about the province's back-to-school plans earlier this summer, which led him to launch his petition. Ideally, he said he'd like to see masks mandatory throughout the school when students return next month.
"No student or staff member should be exposed to a potentially dangerous environment," he said in an email. "I hope the provincial government will see that we are determined to flatten the curve together."
Approaches to masks in schools have varied across the country. Ontario recently announced that students in Grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear masks all day. In Alberta, students in those grades will need to wear masks in common areas but not classrooms.
Fleming said potential changes to B.C.'s guidelines are being discussed by the school restart steering committee, which includes representatives from public health, teachers, parents, First Nations, administrators and school boards.
"It's an active, ongoing discussion," he said. "I think we set out the expectation that when we laid out the plan, the framework … there would be a number of areas where we would seek additional advice and guidance and welcome ideas from the steering committee, so we're considering all of those things."