Rather than harness it as a rare educational opportunity, some public schools in the path of the upcoming full solar eclipse — set to cast a huge shadow across a swath of the United States on Aug. 21 — are canceling classes that day.
The reason? Safety concerns.
Edwardsville (Illinois) District 7 is viewing the eclipse as any other environmental hazard — including snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures — that poses a threat to students, KTVI-TV reported. And since it can't safely dismiss students at any time during the eclipse, the district is giving students the day off, the station said. Several other districts in the area are following suit.
It appears the issue is severe eye damage that can occur by looking directly at a solar eclipse.
Superintendent Lynda Andre said teachers had asked about organizing field trips or viewing sessions, but school officials said since the eclipse happens on the fifth day of the school year, training 470 teachers and the students on safely viewing the eclipse isn't feasible, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
The full eclipse will last about three minutes, but the full window of danger is more like three hours, Andre told the paper.
“To put students outdoors during that time, we can’t account for whether they’ll look at the sun,” she told the News-Democrat. “We will not put the students out and just hope they use safe habits until they get home to their parents.”
Andre compared having no school on eclipse day to having no school on Veterans Day.
“We certainly teach about patriotism and respect for veterans, but we still have a day of nonattendance that day,” she told the paper. “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.”
Other area districts are keeping classes on schedule and have purchased safety glasses for every student so they can safely watch the eclipse, KTVI said.
Another concern is traffic, as an estimated one million people are expected to travel to an area to watch the eclipse, the station said.
In Knoxville, Tennessee, the superintendent of Knox County Schools got approval from the state to cancel classes on the day of the eclipse for "inclement weather," the News-Sentinel reported.
And while schools in the district will be closed, a packet is still being sent to every family with information about the eclipse, the paper said, adding that all students will receive solar viewing glasses as well.
NASA has posted instructions on safely viewing the eclipse, adding that regular sunglasses won't do the job.