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LPS installing plastic barriers on lunch tables for more protection
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LPS installing plastic barriers on lunch tables for more protection

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Plexiglas barriers on lunch tables

Lincoln Public Schools is adding plastic barriers to all its lunchroom tables to better protect students, who take off their masks while they eat. 

Lincoln Public Schools students will soon be separated by clear plastic barriers while they eat lunch, the latest effort to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in an area where students and staff are least protected.

“I think through our conversations with the health department and looking at how our buildings are functioning, that was probably the one area we had the most exposure,” said Operations Director Scott Wieskamp. “So we thought, well, let’s do a few little mock-ups and see what we can do.”

District officials created plastic barriers that sit in the middle of round or hexagonal tables, with clear barriers spreading out from the middle to divide each seat. They have seven different models, Wieskamp said, to accommodate the different lunch tables and benches in the district.

They started with Scott Middle School because it was the most crowded, Wieskamp said, and have nearly all the middle school lunchrooms finished. They hoped to be completely finished with middle school lunchrooms but ran out of material.

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They’ve ordered more, he said, enough for elementary and high schools as well. They hope to get the material in sometime this week. They’ll finish up the middle schools then do the high schools and move on to elementary schools. He estimated that adding the lunchroom barriers to high schools would take about a week, and another two weeks to do elementary schools.

At the long benches at elementary schools, there will be a dividing pane that runs down the middle of the table and individual separations between students sitting next to each other.

Students and staff are required to wear face coverings in school, including as they go through the lunch line. But they take off their masks to eat, often not sitting 6 feet or even 3 feet apart, although in schools where it’s possible, kids sit every other seat at lunch. They aren’t there that long — probably less than 15 minutes in many cases — but the plastic will add another layer of protection, Wieskamp said.

The biggest issue, Wieskamp said, is that it’s harder for students to talk to each other, but that might encourage them to focus on eating so they can go outside.

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The plastic doesn’t extend all the way to the end of the table, and although kids will socialize, they’re usually facing forward, focusing on their food, he said.

“It’s not perfect, but it really does a good job for straight across from you,” he said.

The plastic will cost between $100,000-$150,000 and will be paid for from the federal CARES Act money designed to help schools defray costs related to the pandemic.

Wieskamp’s staff cuts the plastic sheets to fit the tables and sands the edges before installing them.

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The basis of LPS’ reopening plan is four-fold: requiring staff and students to wear masks, self-monitor for symptoms, frequent hand and surface sanitizing and social distancing when possible.

Staff or students who test positive must self-isolate at home; high-risk contacts who require self-quarantining include being within 6 feet of an exposed person for at least 15 minutes with one or both people without masks.

Since school began, LPS has reported 41 positive cases of staff, students or visitors in schools. As of Wednesday, 59 staff members were in quarantine, a number that fluctuates regularly.

LPS officials say so far, none of the cases are caused by community spread within the schools.

Photos: First day of school

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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