Education

Schools decide whether to close on the day solar eclipse hits Southern Illinois

Watch the total solar eclipse in Indonesia in 35 seconds

Members of Slooh watched and captured the total solar eclipse from Indonesia on March 8, 2016. You'll be able to see a similar event this summer here in the metro-east.
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Members of Slooh watched and captured the total solar eclipse from Indonesia on March 8, 2016. You'll be able to see a similar event this summer here in the metro-east.

Each school in the metro-east will handle the upcoming solar eclipse in its own way, but at least one district is opting to cancel school entirely.

The Edwardsville District 7 school board voted Monday to cancel school for the day of the eclipse, Aug. 21, citing safety concerns with school letting out during the time of day it will be the most dangerous to look at the sun.

Superintendent Lynda Andre said teachers had asked about organizing field trips or viewing sessions, but upon exploring it, school officials determined that because the eclipse happens on the fifth day of school, there would be insufficient time to train 470 teachers and the students on how to safely observe the eclipse.

Scientists have warned that permanent eye damage can occur from looking at the eclipse with unprotected eyes. However, Andre said even if the district could afford safety glasses for all students, it would be unlikely that they could get enough of them.

While the full eclipse will last about three minutes, the full window of danger is more like three hours, Andre said.

Primarily, Andre said, it was an issue of dismissal times as the high school lets out within a half hour of the peak of the eclipse. Edwardsville’s high school lets out at 1:50, and its three-tier busing system puts its 7,500 students out of school a bit earlier than most metro-east schools.

Andre said the district is responsible for students’ safety until they arrive home. “To put students outdoors during that time, we can’t account for whether they’ll look at the sun,” she said. “We will not put the students out and just hope they use safe habits until they get home to their parents.”

Andre said she considered it similar to other environmental conditions that cause school closure, including subzero temperatures or snow and ice.

Still, the eclipse will be featured prominently in the lesson plans, Andre said. It will be taught as a current event the week of the eclipse, and will be included in science and astronomy sections throughout the year at various grade levels. Teachers will be able to use the recorded video stream from NASA in the classroom, Andre said.

She compared it to the way the schools handle Veterans Day. “We certainly teach about patriotism and respect for veterans, but we still have a day of nonattendance that day,” Andre said. “Not having school that day is about not being able to safely dismiss our students and ensure they are not looking at the sun unprotected.”

The extra day will be added to the end of the school year, so as to not interfere with spring break, winter break or other days off that have already been scheduled, Andre said.

Meanwhile, Triad schools will remain open. Superintendent Leigh Lewis said that parents concerned about their child’s safety can decide to keep their children at home, while the district will have in-service training for teachers. Students with parental permission will be able to participate in safe viewing, with protective eye wear purchased by the district.

“We realize the hardship closing school might have on some households,” Lewis said. “Therefore, we prefer that parents make the choice that suits their need.”

Likewise, Highland schools will be in session as usual. Superintendent Mike Sutton said the district has purchased safety glasses and will provide opportunities for teachers to use the experience as a teaching opportunity. “We will be communicating with parents the concerns with safety and asking for permission slips prior to students taking part in any activities,” Sutton said.

Other districts have not yet made the decision. Collinsville Unit 10 Superintendent Robert Green said the district is currently exploring its options but has not made any decisions. Likewise, O’Fallon High School Superintendent Darcy Benway said their plans are not final.

“The administration is in the process of gathering information regarding its plans for the eclipse,” she said. “We are speaking with other area districts and evaluating what is determined to be the best practice for this event.”

The eclipse is Aug. 21 and will be visible in a wide path along many states, including Illinois. NASA has a number of recommendations on how to safely observe the eclipse, and warns that ordinary sunglasses will not be sufficient to protect the eyes.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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