Friday, August 18, 2017

School districts consider eclipse study, safety

Permanent eye damage can result from viewing
the sun with unprotected eyes or unsafe glasses.
School districts in, or even near, the path of totality of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse have made decisions
regarding how they are managing the science and safety of eclipse viewing with their students.

Although some Illinois school districts don’t open until after Aug. 21, many started classes last week.
Monday’s eclipse will be total in a swath of the southern tier of the state, including Carbondale near the center, Cahokia to the northwest, Harrisburg to the east, and Mounds to the south. Areas in and around Anna, Benton, Waterloo, Harrisburg, Marion, Herrin, Metropolis, and Vienna will experience totality.

Permanent eye damage can occur from looking at the sun with unprotected eyes. People’s interest in seeing the eclipse overcomes their instinct to look away from the sun. As reported in The Southern Illinoisan, the effect of the sun (even when partially covered) on human eyes is more powerful than the effect of focusing the sun through a magnifying glass to burn leaves.

Edwardsville SD 7 announced in July that it was cancelling classes for Aug. 21, based partly on dismissal times. Students would normally be released from school during the time of afternoon eclipse. School officials also feared they would not be able to prepare for safe observation, or to obtain safety glasses for all students. Edwardsville will experience 99.5 percent totality at 1:18 p.m.

The district’s announcement said “the solar eclipse presents a hazard to students if they cannot be kept indoors during the entire time of exposure of almost three hours. Since the District cannot safely dismiss all students at any time during the solar eclipse on August 21, the District 7 Board of Education approved an amendment to the 2017-18 school calendar to make August 21 a day of non-attendance…”

Granite City CUSD 9 followed suit, also with safety and dismissal concerns. In St. Claire County, Brooklyn USD 188 has a teacher institute day. In Carbondale, Unity Point SD 140, Carbondale ESD 95, and Carbondale Community High School District 165 will be closed.

School districts that won’t experience totality are taking advantage of the learning opportunity. Around Champaign, school districts began preparing last year for that area’s 90 to 95 percent totality. The Danville Public School Foundation purchased 7,000 pairs of safety glasses for student use. Elgin-based School District U-46 offered training for teachers and required permission from parents for eclipse-related events. The Elgin area will experience approximately 86 percent totality.