April 13, 2024

How are schools dealing with the solar eclipse? Closures, justified absences

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The 2024 total solar eclipse finally arrives on Monday, but local governments and organizations have been preparing for months to accommodate the millions of Americans hoping to witness the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Among those planning the special day are schools, especially those in states that are in the path of totality. A lot of foresight and logistics are required to manage the excitement surrounding such a rare event, and school districts in the 13 states in the eclipse’s path have been preparing their students, parents and educators well in advance.

States and districts are taking different approaches: Some will dismiss students early or close entirely, while others will find ways to incorporate the celestial event into the day’s curriculum.

At once an incredible natural teaching moment and a potential safety risk, the long-awaited eclipse is expected to have a major impact.

From putting on a musical to taking a day off, here’s what some schools are planning for April 8th.

Total solar eclipse presents rare teaching opportunity

Schools in each state are dealing with this rare event in their own way, but one thing is widely agreed upon by educators and parents alike: the eclipse is a rare and exciting teaching opportunity.

Businesses, libraries and schools across the US are making efforts to ensure resources are available to anyone who wants to view the eclipse and learn more about space.

Public libraries are taking action with help from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Space Sciences Institute. Through the collaboration, the STAR Library Network distributed 5 million solar eclipse glasses to 10,000 public libraries, along with information and activities to share with library users.

Many state and local governments are doing the same, such as New York State’s “I LOVE NY” solar eclipse glasses program, available on the I LOVE NY page.

NASA is also leveraging the interest to encourage the public to learn more about outer space and celestial events. The organization will broadcast the eclipse on April 8 from 1 to 4 pm ET on NASA TV, NASA.gov, the NASA app and YouTube. A complete set of learning materials called “My NASA Data” was also released.

The program, offered free online, “allows students in grades 3 through 12 and their teachers to analyze and interpret data from the NASA mission,” according to the official website. These tools include lesson plans, mini-lessons, student-facing interactive web-based resources, and a longer “story map.”

Some schools remain in operation to take advantage of the learning opportunity. One such school in Michigan is hosting an eclipse viewing party for students, parents and community members, while a school in New Jersey even purchased a telescope for optimal viewing.

Others are preparing by stocking up on glasses and writing lesson plans and special activities to engage students before, during and after the eclipse. Building safe viewing devices, enjoying Moon Pies while crafting projects, and putting on a musical are just a few creative approaches educators are taking to keep the day fun and educational.

Schools offer excused absences to witness the event

Some school districts are leaving the choice up to parents.

When another eclipse event occurred in 2017, many schools offered excused absences on the day of the event and even in the days before or after it. This time, it appears that the practice is being used again in some regions.

In one of these cases, many schools around Jacksonville will offer justified absences to April 8, allowing students to stay home without worrying about the consequences of missing a day.

In South Florida, classes will be held as normal, with no early dismissal, but absences will also be excused, allowing parents to decide based on work schedules, child care availability, and personal comfort regarding safety concerns. For some, it’s simply about sharing a rare experience with their children. Similar accommodations can be found in districts across the country, such as Springboro, Ohio and North Texas.

In some cases, like Glynn County, Georgia, parents ask or even petition for this option, saying the “once-in-a-lifetime event” is something families should be able to share with their children at home.

Schools plan to close early or completely

Some schools are planning to close early, drop out late, switch to e-learning or close completely on the day of the eclipse. For some it is a safety issue and for others it is simply a matter of logistics.

Congestion is to be expected when it comes to travel. The Federal Aviation Administration expects the eclipse to contribute to the spring break spike in air traffic, with 50,670 flights expected on Thursday, April 4. Some local governments, such as those around Niagara Falls in New York and Canada and Bell County, Texas, have declared states of emergency ahead of the event, as popular viewing points in the path of totality face increasing pressure on their services. emergency services, cell phone networks and transport routes.

Officials in several states have warned that driving conditions could become less than ideal that day, as people from locations not in the path of totality will likely flock to those who should check out. Similarly, officials from organizations such as the American Automobile Association (AAA) have expressed concerns that people will be distracted while driving or that the sudden darkness caused by the eclipse will affect visibility.

And, of course, there is a risk of permanent damage to your eyes when looking at the eclipse without proper protection.

As a result, many districts want to keep their students safe by telling them to stay home or leave early. This way, they won’t have to deal with traffic, crowded public transportation, crowds, and other potential hazards on the way to and from school.

The Comal Independent School District in Texas, for example, said a bad weather day will be used to cancel classes out of concern for travel safety. Anticipating unprecedented traffic on major roads, the district chose to close on April 8 rather than ask students and caregivers to confront and contribute to road stress.

School officials are also hesitant to gamble on the risk of children being outdoors during the eclipse without proper supervision. A superintendent in New Jersey sent a letter to parents about the early closure, saying the eclipse would occur during normal dismissal hours, meaning children would be roaming outside without adequate adult supervision to ensure they used adequate eye protection.

Other schools, like those in East Tennessee, are opting for early dismissal, in line with AAA’s suggestion to plan travel around the day’s peak activity. Schools in New York’s Hudson Valley region are planning the same, anticipating dismissal before the eclipse will be visible in the region.

Like schools that canceled classes entirely, those who dismissed classes before the eclipse mentioned taking proper precautions when viewing the partial solar eclipse at home.

Whether it’s closing entirely, dismissing early, or planning a fun schedule, all schools seem to have a common message for their parents and students: safety is paramount. Make sure you wear those glasses.

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