In an abundance of caution, the Jackson County School System is changing plans for outdoor viewing of Monday’s solar eclipse.
The school system’s more than 7,800 students will join faculty, staff and volunteers and watch the eclipse – indoors – on a variety of media, including web-based live-streams and broadcast and cable television stations.
Jackson County is just outside the direct path of “The Great American Solar Eclipse,” the first total eclipse since 1918 to be visible on a path across the entire continental U.S.
The sun will be about 99 percent obscured by the moon in the Jefferson area at approximately 2:37 p.m. Monday.
Teachers and students have been preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime experience since school started Aug. 4.
“We had hoped to have our students outside and had purchased eclipse glasses for students, staff and volunteers,” explained Todd Nickelsen, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Letters asking parental permission for student participation were sent home with most students last week; the rest were to have been distributed early this week.
Based on recent news reports about the glasses, including recalls of some brands, those plans changed Tuesday.
“The American Astronomical Society started referencing ‘alarming reports’ of potentially unsafe eclipse viewers ‘flooding the market,’ late last week,” Nickelsen said.
He noted that AAS said some companies were printing logos and certification labels on fake glasses and “even displaying fake test results on their websites to support their bogus claim of compliance” with the International Organization for Standardization or ISO – and those reports have caused concern.
“We are not willing to expose our children or our school system to unnecessary risk,” he said, but added school officials did not want to close schools and miss a “remarkable opportunity for learning” or unduly burden working parents with an unexpected closure.
“We realize there will be disappointed students – and parents,” Nickelsen said, “but our priority for student safety comes first.”
Dismissal of elementary students will be delayed until the danger of direct viewing has passed, Nickelsen said, estimating that classes will dismiss for kindergarten through fifth-grade students at approximately 3:15 p.m.
Middle school and high school students will be released on their normal schedules, though some bus delays may result because of the elementary school changes, he explained.
“Parents who want to check their children out of school to share the experience with them will certainly be able to do so without penalty,” Nickelsen said.
The absence will be noted as “excused” in the student’s record, and parents are asked to contact the school in advance to ensure orderly dismissal.
“A signed note from the parent indicating what time the student will be picked up will be accepted,” Nickelsen said, noting that parents are asked to pick up their children before 11:30 a.m.
Notes should be sent to the school by Friday.