Plexiglass Problems

Jackie Collver, Writer

Students who go to school in person have most likely noticed the massive change to our classrooms. Before, students were socially distanced in classrooms. Now, with students attending school four days a week, that is no longer possible. To make up for the fact we cannot adequately socially distance, plexiglass dividers can be found on top of tables and around desks as an extra level of security. 

 

As Laurel Maronick, a B day junior, put it, “It’s like walking into a maze of mirrors at the fair.” 

 

At first, I thought she was just trying to be funny, but when I entered the school Monday, I realized she was not exaggerating. And many other students feel the same way. 

 

“I already know I’m going to run into one of these,” one student remarked.  

 

 “It’s very overwhelming and I feel trapped,” one student said in reply to the survey I sent out to HHS students.*  It reminds me of a prison….and like having to communicate through the glass dividers,” another student expressed. “It’s just making everyone feel more isolated.”   

 

“[Plexiglass] seems like a waste of money considering vaccines are just around the corner and we could have just held off on phasing up,” one student expressed. They have a valid point. After all, students could get the Covid vaccine soon – May, or sometime over the summer. If we used the rest of this school year to stick to the A and B day schedules, the school district would have saved some money, and we could have been safer than we might be now returning to school.  

 

And some students agree that just keeping two days in school and three online would have been a better option. 

 

“What would make me feel safer is if we sticked to the A and B day schedules,” one student wrote. “I feel like there isn’t enough precautionary things being done,” another student said 

 

After all, it’s clear that social distancing simply isn’t going to be possible in some classrooms – especially those with a lot of students and not a lot of desks. The University of Washington said on their website last October that, “barriers do not replace the need to maintain six feet of separation between individuals when possible.” Using plexiglass barriers in place of socially distancing may result in consequences that only set us back in the process to return to “normal” school again. After all, students still must quarantine if the person on the other side of the plexiglass gets Covid.  

 

Out of the 85 responses to the survey, only 22 – less than a fourth – said they felt like Plexiglass was keeping them safe. 

 

“I would feel safer if all the teachers were strict about masks,” one student wrote. “I’ve seen teachers without masks,” another student added. “People need to do better.”  

 

What about the plexiglass’ impact on learning?  Thirty-nine students said that they could see the board, but forty-four could not. There’s “too much glare…[plexiglass] distorts the board,” one student remarked. Another mentioned that plexiglass creates more distractions. Some students feel trapped or overwhelmed in school because of the plexiglass. Other students are experiencing headaches, eye pain and dizziness because of the Plexiglass. Still others claim they’re having a difficult time hearing what is said in class because of plexiglass. It’s concerning that something meant to protect us is also inhibiting our learning. 

 

And these are just problems faced in the classroom. Unfortunately, the long list of plexiglass problems reaches students not in the school as well. 

 

One student said that they can’t hear anything clearly online, and that they feel as though inperson students have more clear and concise lessons. They’re not alone. Out of the 85 students who took the survey, 36 said they could not see the board well during online class because of glare or drawings students have made on plexiglass. “You can’t see anything, unless [teachers] share their screens,” one student said.  

 

Seeing the board, though, is not the only issue surrounding the plexiglass situation.  

 

My art teacher first made me realize that Plexiglass could actually decrease the distance between students as well as their distance from staff. She was squeezing behind my stool one day while I was in art and, half jokingly, muttered something about how we were closer now with Plexiglass because of the difficulty created to move around desks and stools. But she isn’t wrong, and it’s a problem that is worth addressing. Teachers and students alike are having a difficult time moving around the sheets of Plexiglass, notably when they jut out well past where the table ends.  

 

This problem, however, may be addressed soon. One teacher remarked to me that the workers who installed the Plexiglass may come back to our school soon to trim down the excess glass. A terrific idea, surely. But when will this take place?  

 

Again, plexiglass barriers don’t substitute the need for social distancing and, as of right now, the school seems to be using it as an excuse to do just that.  

 

Other students realize this as well. “I’m switching to DLI because of the set-up of the seats,” one student said. Still, there is more to add. “[Plexiglass does] not offer a lot of protection from the person next to you…it’s a band aid on the whole covid situation,” a student expressed 

 

Some students don’t think plexiglass is necessary. “I think that it is kind of pointless and there is no point of having it if we already wear masks, someone said. “It does the same job as a simple mask can do,” another student agreed.  

 

So, what is the point of plexiglass if students and teachers are already wearing masks? Does plexiglass really help in preventing the spread of coronavirus? 

 

The CDC is the first place to go.  

 

On their website, they describe engineering controls – the use of barriers to put distance from people and the hazard – and the cost of putting them up. Overall, engineering controls are more expensive than PPE (personal protection equipment, such as face shields). However, engineering controls could save consumers money in the long run, because the operating costs are lower when compared to those of PPE.  

 

However, I question whether these expenses will, in fact, be worth it in the long run for our school. After all, who knows how long these plexiglass barriers will be in place? Is it worth the money, discomfort and interruption to education that they cause? 

 

Forbes magazine explains that more factors come into play with the effectiveness of plexiglass, including ventilation. The article detailed how aerosols don’t travel in certain directions, and although plastic barriers can stop droplets if someone sneezes or coughs, they don’t take into consideration the mist that also occurs, and that mist can go anywhere. This, however, does not happen as much with masks, where one does not breathe in the mist directly. Air ventilation can help move the mist elsewhere, away from people who are breathing in the same space. 

 

If masks are already protecting us from mist and droplets, students have a valid point in saying that plexiglass won’t do much. However, it is an extra level of security, and we at least know the school is doing everything it can think of to keep us in the classroom. 

 

Whether you’re happy about the plexiglass or not, there is one thing that everyone school-wide agrees on: this is going to take some getting used to.  

 

The schoolboard is just doing what members think is best for students. Nobody could have seen the problems that have come up because of plexiglass, but it’s important for students and parents alike to remember that we have a voice in this, and it’s important to express our opinions respectfully and honestly. Our teachers and staff are just trying to keep each other and students safe. All of this is going to end someday, it’s just a matter of when. We need to be patient and, most importantly, stick together as a community. 

 

 

*In case you’re curious…. 

I surveyed HHS students on five questions, including if they felt safe returning to school, felt that the plexiglass was keeping them safe and their first impressions of the glass in place, and whether or not they could see the board because of plexiglass, both in school and while attending Teams meetings online.  

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