Austin ISD Fights COVID-19 Transmission with Picnic Tables

By Eduardo Villa

Students at many campuses will soon enjoy the benefits of outdoor spaces with new picnic tables built by the Austin ISD Service Center. The district is building 375 picnic tables to support outdoor classrooms and lunch areas for students.

Why it matters: During lunchtime, students are at greater risk of COVID-19 transmission because they have to remove their masks to eat. Outdoor learning and lunch-time have proven to be effective ways to mitigate the spread.

  • In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added a recommendation to increase ventilation by holding classes outdoors to prevent the transmission of the virus. Outdoor learning and meals outside are also recommended by Austin Public Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • “These tables are supporting students getting outside whether it is for eating or learning,” said Anne Muller, Austin ISD outdoor learning specialist. “When students learn and play outside, it contributes to the overall well-being of children and improves their education, mental and physical health, and happiness. That is why we want to maximize outdoor opportunities as much as possible.”

The big picture: Schools have requested around 1,800 tables to transition to outdoor meals and learning. So far, the district has purchased 500. There’s so much demand for these tables, Austin ISD has been having a tough time purchasing everything we need due to supply chain shortages. In the meantime, Service Center staff are building the tables themselves.

  • Table distribution is prioritized for schools in COVID-19 hotspots, schools receiving Title I funding, and elementary schools, where students are not eligible to get vaccinated.

You should know: Not every campus can accommodate outdoor lunch because of logistics or staffing issues. 

How you can support: The Austin Ed Fund is raising funds to help schools buy picnic tables and other supplies for schools wanting to transition to outdoor lunch. In early October, the district will also hold a community workday where community members are welcome to help assemble picnic tables – more details coming soon.