A New Hampshire school district is installing desk shields. Is Massachusetts next?

Education officials in the Bay State say plexiglass barriers have "pros and cons."

A clean room with stacked chairs in the science room at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School building in Mattapan on July 10.
A clean room with stacked chairs in the science room at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School building in Mattapan on July 10. –David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Students heading back to school in Salem, New Hampshire, this year will be seeing their studies in a new way, literally.

The school district’s plans for reopening during the coronavirus pandemic call for installing shields on student and teacher desks — plastic and clear ones that will allow them to see what’s around them all while not needing to wear a mask, CBS Boston reports.

Students and staff will be required to wear a mask when “appropriate and necessary” and to follow other protocols in place for distancing and hand washing, according to the plans.

But the face coverings won’t be required when students and teachers are behind the shields, which will also be installed between seats in cafeterias. CBS Boston reports the district will give parents the option for students to continue remote learning during the fall term.

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While educators have not yet finalized individual district plans for tackling the return to school in Massachusetts, students here in the commonwealth likely won’t see quite as many partitions, at least in the classroom.

In new guidelines released by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Wednesday, regulators noted that there are “pros and cons” of using plexiglass barriers.

“In general, we do not recommend setting up plexiglass barriers in regular classrooms, since they represent an additional high-risk surface to clean and disinfect,” the guidance says.

But the document released by DESE notes the barriers are allowed if classroom furniture cannot be replaced or if physical distancing cannot be put in place without using barriers, “such as in a shared table or laboratory settings where there is limited capacity and desks are often heavy or immovable.”

The guidance notes plexiglass barriers can also be used in cafeteria settings, although officials have said they prefer students eat their meals inside their classrooms when possible.

The barriers should be tall enough to surpass a student’s height when he or she is standing, according to the guidelines. They should also be cleaned between uses.

As for school staff offices, the state guidelines say the barriers should be considered for high-traffic areas or where distancing cannot be achieved.

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DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, in a memo to school leaders and administrators Wednesday, noted the latest guidance is still “subject to change depending on the COVID-19 trends and as we learn more about the virus from medical research.”


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