Department of Elementary & Secondary Education
Frequently Asked Questions, Week of March 15, 2021
1. Can districts use plexiglass dividers at lunch to space students less than 6 feet apart?
The Department continues to discourage the use of plexiglass dividers in cafeterias. While our fall facilities and operations guidance (download) permits the use of plexiglass when large or permanent furniture limits a district’s ability to maintain 6 feet of distancing (for instance, certain cafeteria table sizes and lab tables), the use of plexiglass barriers to increase capacity in these situations is not without risks. For instance, the use of plexiglass presents added challenges in terms of increasing high-risk surfaces that need to be regularly cleaned and, in some cases, could prevent optimal airflow circulation. Since the fall, we have continued to receive guidance from our medical advisors that lunchtime, when masks are not worn, represents the highest risk portion of the school day and that a strict 6 feet of distance should be maintained whenever possible. If districts or schools are having trouble with spacing students 6 feet apart for lunch, please be sure to read our recent guidance on lunch scheduling and configuration ideas (download) and reach out to the COVID-19 help center for additional support. We will help brainstorm how you can work within your facilities constraints to keep students spaced 6 feet apart at lunchtime.
2. How should schools and districts plan to provide educational services during the summer of 2021?
The Department strongly recommends that students receive as much in-person learning as possible during the summer of 2021. Schools and districts should plan for an in-person model for services that are a direct extension of the 2020-21 school year and that schools and districts are required to provide, such as Extended School Year services. However, schools and districts also need to allow families the ability to opt into a remote model of instruction for these services. Schools and districts should notify families that they will schedule these required services in person while also providing a date by which parents need to respond by if their children need remote instruction. This information should be written in plain, parent-friendly language and translated as necessary.
Most summer educational programming, however, will not be a direct extension of the 2020-2021 school year and will not need to have a remote option unless special circumstances arise on an individual student basis. Such summer services include acceleration academies, credit recovery programs, traditional summer school, etc.
3. Can students exchange books at school libraries?
Yes, DESE continues to encourage districts and schools to make their libraries available to students for book swaps. Books do not need to be sanitized or disinfected, but students should wash hands or use hand sanitizer before and after checking out books. As stated in our facilities and operations guidance (download), “Library books may be checked out if students clean their hands before and after use and if students only select books from the shelves,
instead of the return area. Books and other paper-based materials are not considered a high risk for transmission and do not need additional cleaning procedures.” Students may also use the library as a learning space if they are able to follow required mitigation strategies, including masking and physical distancing.