All eyes will be turned to the sky on August 21 as a rare eclipse sweeps across the United States. While this experience will provide a wonderful learning opportunity, local school districts have been in discussion for weeks, trying to decide if they will hold classes in light of student safety concerns.
“We have been monitoring news reports and hearing from emergency officials that there are safety concerns during the entire afternoon, not just when the eclipse is at its peak,” said Frank Shelton, Knox County Public Schools’ director of communications.
Barbourville Independent and KCEOC Head Start mirrors these concerns, stating student safety is always their top concern and priority.
With this in mind, both Barbourville Independent Schools and Knox County Public Schools have decided to close on August 21. KCPS originally decided to extend the school day on August 21 so students could safely take advantage of the learning opportunity, but reversed that decision on August 15, officially deciding to close the district. KCEOC Head Start, which was scheduled to begin the school year on August 21, has decided to move their opening date to August 22.
“The safest decision for all of our students and staff is to cancel school on this day,” continued Shelton.
What exactly are the safety concerns surrounding this eclipse, though?
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) states, “Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality.” However, Knox County will only experience a partial eclipse of 97.41 percent on August 21, meaning the sun’s damaging rays will never be fully blocked during the eclipse as seen from Barbourville.
Doctor William Victors, an optometrist at Barbourville Vision Center, says the problem with viewing an eclipse is it “doesn’t hurt so you keep looking. But the sun’s harmful rays still cause damage. If anyone, especially children, pulls their glasses off at the wrong time, they can lose vision.”
Dr. Vickers advises “the only totally safe way to look at an eclipse is to not look at an eclipse while it’s happening. Wait and watch it later on the television.”
If you are going to watch the eclipse as it occurs, Dr. Vickers says use eclipse glasses that are properly fitted and meet the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) requirements.
“When people buy eclipse glasses, make sure they are marked with ISO 12312-2:2015. This is an international standard that should be eclipse safe.”
For BIS students, August 21 will be a Non-Instructional Learning (NTI) Day. Students will have content made available to them to complete outside of the classroom. August 21 will not be an NTI Day for KCPS students. Instead, the district said their teachers will share suggested activities and are encouraging families to visit the NASA website to learn more about the eclipse. KCPS will also provide ISO-approved glasses to students who return a permission form by Friday, August 18.
With the proper safety steps taken, those in Barbourville can view the eclipse starting at 1:04 p.m. The maximum eclipse will occur at 2:33 p.m. and the eclipse will end at 3:57 p.m. [NASA].