With classes already underway, many Sacramento-area schools are gearing up for an event Monday they don't usually have to plan for: a solar eclipse.
In Sacramento, the partial eclipse will occur during morning classes, between about 9:02 and 11:39 a.m. with a peak at 10:17.
Schools are torn between a desire to use the phenomenon as a learning experience and concerns about eye safety, particularly among the youngest elementary school students and preschoolers too young to keep eclipse glasses on or heed advice not to stare at the sun.
Although Sacramento will see a partially blocked sun, with the maximum phase at 79 percent, some schools in full-eclipse areas have already canceled school Monday out of an abundance of caution. Education officials in states such as Tennessee and Illinois have said they fear their students will go without adult supervision after school when the eclipse reaches those areas.
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Looking at the sun while it’s partially eclipsed could do lasting eye damage. Normally, people don’t stare at the sun because it is too bright, but they can be tempted during an eclipse because the blocked rays make it possible.
While some Sacramento area schools and teachers have planned ahead by buying loads of eclipse glasses, not all local campuses will have them available.
“Our typical approach is really to emphasize safety first,” said Xanthi Pinkerton, spokeswoman for the Elk Grove Unified School District. “But at the same time, we all feel that this is really a big opportunity.”
The Twin Rivers Unified School District in the North Sacramento area is providing schools with special viewing glasses that allow students to look at the sun without harming their vision.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Technology Academy in North Sacramento is taking advantage of the natural phenomenon to teach students, too.
“We haven’t finalized all the details yet, but we are going to have an activity where all of our students are either able to come out and rotate through four (viewing) stations, or we’ll have them all out at one time to view the eclipse,” Principal Shana Henry said.
Teachers are offering lessons on eclipses Friday and Monday, including talks about safe viewing.
Elk Grove Unified sent home a letter outlining precautions for the eclipse. Some of its schools have planned outdoor activities. Others, such as Elk Grove Elementary School, are choosing to keep younger kids inside.
Elk Grove Elementary secretary Susan Davis said students in kindergarten through second grade will stay in the school during the eclipse, which will happen during their normal recess time. Older children will be in class during the eclipse. They’ll be told not to look at the sun, and adults will make sure they don’t, she said.
The Folsom Cordova Unified School District said some schools will be hosting educational activities.
“It’s a remarkable learning opportunity … but we want to make sure that everyone has info related to how to take appropriate safety precautions,” said district spokesman Daniel Thigpen.
A number of preschools have chosen to keep young children indoors Monday morning for safety’s sake. Many worry that children may remove protective eyewear and that adult supervision will not be enough to enforce the rules. Others do not have sufficient eyewear for the children, so they feel that keeping them indoors is best.
“We’re hoping that we can kind of see it go from sunny to shadowed without having to be outside in it,” said Melissa Brown, director of the Prestige Preschool Academy of Natomas.
The Discovery Tree School on H Street in downtown Sacramento is taking a different approach. Parents donated glasses for the children, so they will be able to view the eclipse in small groups. Those without glasses will be staying in..
“The kids are super excited,” said Director Leticia Cuellar. “They’ve been asking if it’s today, every day, all week.”