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Eclipse brings challenges to school system

By Staff | Aug 17, 2017

There are only a few times in people’s lifetimes where they get to see a solar eclipse.

For officials at the Lee County Public School system, it means trying to do everything in their power to make sure their students don’t – at least not with the unprotected eye.

The eclipse (which will be a partial one here in Southwest Florida, has produced a dilemma for the system, as the peak time (2:53 p.m.) happens to fall about the same time as elementary school dismissal, which could result in danger for anyyone who doesn’t take certain precautions.

The system has issued a directive to all schools about the solar event set to happen Monday afternoon, where the moon cuts across the sun. It is designed to make sure kids don’t see the eclipse to prevent the potential of going blind.

According to the directive, “students, parents, and teachers should be aware that there is no safe time to look at the eclipse with the naked eye. Doing so can result in retinal damage without you experiencing any pain.”

The directive said to limit student exposure and potential inclination to view the eclipse without proper equipment, the School District of Lee County will:

* Move all outdoor activities indoors between 1:15 and 4:20 p.m. Sports practices, band rehearsals, physical education and other outdoor activities will move inside

* Keep students in their classrooms rather than allowing them to walk outside for a class change

* Alter dismissal procedures, if needed, to limit student movement prior to boarding. This may result in some delays for buses and cars.

* Require parent permission before students can participate in structured eclipse observation time. Students will be required to wear only eyewear recommended by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) that is provided by the school. No outside glasses will be allowed.

Parents are also asked to speak with their children about the eclipse and the dangers of looking directly into the sun before Monday’s event.

Nicole Osterholm, Cape Elementary School principal, said with her school dismissal at 2:10 p.m., buses will leave as usual, while children whose parents pick them up will wait indoors.

“We do these thing to protect our kiddies. Those who stay after school will remain inside,” Osterholm said, adding that there may an opportunity for the kids to see the eclipse on their whiteboards toward the end of the school day.

While the safety of children is paramount, Brian Risley, president of the Southwest Florida Astronomical Society, wasn’t in complete agreement. He said schools could be missing out on a fabulous teaching opportunity.

“The eclipse itself isn’t dangerous. The danger is when little kids think if it dims down, they can stare at it. A passing glance won’t hurt you. We do it all the time,” Risley said. “It’s when it dims down and they think they can stare at it. That’s where the trouble comes in because the damage to the eye is painless and without warning.”

Risley said if precautions are made by teachers through monitoring and special glasses or other projection methods, it’s perfectly fine.

“Properly informed and monitored, people can learn a lot about the eclipse. A lot of science teachers know what to do and set it up to explain it,” Risley said. “Middle and high schoolers mostly understand the warnings. It’s a bit overkill. The way it was sent out, it was made to be dangerous.”

There will be events throughout Southwest Florida for people who want to experience the event.

The Caloosa Nature Center and Planetarium will hold an event where people can observe the eclipse through a telescope or eclipse glasses, of which there will be a limited number.

The event will include kids crafts, an eclipse planetarium show with Harry Dunfee, the setup of the telescope, a solar eclipse presentation in the planetarium, the actual viewing starting at 2:15 p.m. and a movie “Solar Superstorms,” follows the eclipse at 3.

Heather Preston, planetarium director, said she is crossing her fingers that typical Florida weather doesn’t strike at that moment.

“Things can go really badly. It’s possible it will cloud over which will make the eclipse look like a dark set of clouds,” Preston said. “If that happens, we will live screen the NASA coverage inside the planetarium,” Preston said. “We cannot guarantee it will work because sometimes the NASA servers go down.”

This will be the most significant solar eclipse since 1984, Risley said. About 78 percent of the sun will be covered. The total eclipse will occur from Oregon to South Carolina.