June 16, 2020 / 3:43 PM / 18 days ago

In Canada's COVID-19 capital, younger students return to class in "bubbles"

MONTREAL, June 16 (Reuters) - Quebec’s elementary and younger high school students will be divided into smaller subgroups, or “bubbles,” and no longer switch classes when they return to school this fall, the Canadian province hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak said on Tuesday.

Students up to grade 9 will return to regular classes but will remain in the same room separated into groups of six kids, Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said.

“A lot of specialists and pediatricians say, of course, the virus is dangerous,” he told reporters in Montreal. “But not to go to school is dangerous too.”

Many countries are reopening schools with half-full classrooms, staggered school drop-off times and plastic shields around students’ desks, but plans for fall classes are being clouded by fears of a second wave of coronavirus.

Quebec makes up roughly a quarter of Canada’s population, but it accounts for nearly 55% of coronavirus cases and almost two-thirds of deaths. Canada has so far reported 98,787 cases of coronavirus and 8,146 deaths.

Quebec elementary schools in most of the province reopened in May, but primary students in Montreal and high school students remain home. The majority of Canadian provinces have decided to keep their schools closed until the 2020-21 school year.

Only British Columbia has reopened both elementary and high schools, though students are attending on a rotating basis, while Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have both resumed some in-person classes on a limited basis.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, has said it intends to allow students to return in some capacity to in-person classrooms for the 2020-21 school year.

Roberge said high schools will have options for structuring the return to class, while college and university students will have a mixed program combining online and in-class learning. (Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Toronto Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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