Putting students behind plexiglass isn't making them any safer

A little-known stipulation from the New York State Department of Health requires the use of barriers if students are closer than six feet apart. (The barriers are in schools in other states as well.) Not only do barriers dramatically degrade the experience for students, making an already hindered connection with their mask-obscured peers and teachers worse, but for many districts the barriers requirement may be as great of a hurdle to getting kids back to school as the six-foot rule has been. Any district that can’t afford barriers, or that chooses not to purchase them, will have to operate, at best, on a hybrid model with half-full classrooms…

Of the half dozen experts I interviewed for this article, not one could name a study or datum that suggests desktop shields in schools offer any substantial safety advantage, and all said that any benefits would be especially unlikely to be felt when other mitigation measures are already in place.

Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, an expert on indoor-air microbiology, and the director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment at the University of Oregon, said that the barriers could help stop large droplets “if students are close and coughing.” But if people are wearing masks, he said, “there is little effect from the barrier.”