Are Student Desk Guards Worth the Investment?

Way back in the before-times, around 2019, there was a feature in many restaurants known as a salad bar. This wonderous apparatus allowed diners to sup on a never-ending cornucopia of leafy greens and veggies complemented by an assortment of dressings, toppings, and occasionally some dinner rolls. Naturally, this lush feast could not be left unprotected. Defending this treasure was a trusted barrier known as a sneeze guard.


While the COVID-19 pandemic has turned salad bars into a distant memory, acrylic barriers have become an ever-present fixture of daily life. You see them at grocery stores, banks, gas stations, and offices. Essentially, acrylic dividers are located everywhere people assemble in crowds, which, now that students are returning in-person, includes schools.


The question is, as students return to school, are acrylic desk guards worth the investment?


In short, yes, and here's why.


The COVID-19 pandemic has not gone away. Infections are on the rise, including in schools. To illustrate this point, we will use a school district that neighbors our headquarters, the Plano Independent School District. Before doing so, we know this can be a sensitive topic. Our intent is not to politicize the issue or pass judgment in any way. This is simply a glance at the reported COVID-19 cases in the past four weeks.


As of Aug. 29, Plano ISD reported 435 new student cases and 49 new staff cases over the previous seven days. That's up from 274 student cases and 77 staff cases over the preceding three weeks.


The infections are not limited to a particular demographic or population. A high school (9th-10th graders) reported the most cases during that week with 26, followed by an elementary school (1st-5th graders) with 20, and a senior high school (11th-12th graders) with 18. Plano ISD only recently instituted a mandatory mask policy (which has an option to opt out for philosophical reasons) and has an informal virtual learning option for elementary students.


That's just one local district. Nationwide, over the same week, about 204,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association. That makes children nearly a fourth (22.4%) of all reported weekly COVID-19 cases.


The rise of COVID-19 cases in schools isn't too surprising. 


COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that spreads quickly in close, crowded areas, like a full classroom.


According to the CDC, "COVID-19 is spread in three main ways:

  • Breathing in air when close to an infected person exhaling tiny droplets and particles containing the virus.
  • Having these small droplets and particles that contain the virus land on the eyes, nose, or mouth, particularly through a cough or sneeze.
  • Touching eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them."


Also, the disease is changing. Virus mutations happen quickly, in months or even weeks. Currently, the predominant COVID-19 variation in the U.S. is the Delta variant. Delta causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of COVID-19.


However, we (parents, students, teachers, administrators, society, etc.) have to balance the risks of COVID-19 and the Delta variant against the importance of in-person learning.


review performed by Reuters found that grades and test performance declined markedly around the country after school buildings closed due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. According to the article, "A December analysis by consulting firm McKinsey & Company of i-Ready test results, which assess math and reading skills for elementary school students in 25 states, estimated that white students were one to three months behind where their learning would have been in math, absent the pandemic. The gap was three to five months for students of color."


So, how do we keep children as safe as possible while providing them with the best possible education? 


The CDC recommends "universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place."


Those "layered prevention strategies" include several possibilities, such as:

  • Vaccination.
  • Symptom screenings.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Handwashing.
  • Preventing people from sharing supplies.
  • Maintaining a physical distance of at least 3 feet.
  • Using physical desk guards, sneeze guards, or separators, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to socially distance.


To be effective, desk guards must be designed and used correctly. 


Student desk guards need to be tall enough and wide enough to prevent the transmission of exhaled droplets. Also, they need to be constructed of lightweight, sturdy material. Lightweight because students typically need to transport their desk guards from classroom to classroom; it's also helpful if the desk guard is foldable to make it easier to carry. Sturdy because these will be used by students, which means they need to withstand the Sturm und Drang that only school-age children can dish out.


Some desk guards are constructed with only a single front clear panel and nontransparent side panels. This is ineffective in a classroom for several reasons:

  1. It creates a "horse blinders" situation, blocking a student's peripheral vision.
  2. It can make a child feel trapped and claustrophobic, which lessens their ability to focus and learn.
  3. It increases the likelihood that students will lean past the guard to see to their side and talk to their neighbor, diminishing the effectiveness of the guard.


At Exhibit Store, our portable, lightweight Student Desk Shields are designed for any classroom setting, from kindergarten to high school. The Student Desk Shields are 24-inches tall, an ideal height to provide student protection without disrupting classroom activities. The guards include three large windows for increased visibility and interaction. A student can easily fold the shield and conveniently carry it to different classrooms. Each student shield is manufactured using corrugated plastic and clear PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), which is easy to disinfect and wipe down. We use the same transparent PET for our Face Shields because the material is very resistant to moisture and chemically resistant to organic material.


Also, for districts that want to add some school spirit, it's possible to print on one side of the shield.


To learn more about our lightweight, sturdy Student Desk Shields and our other public health solutions, please give Exhibit Store a call at 800-234-6760 or contact us here.