If your child will be in school Monday, you’d better submit your solar eclipse paperwork.
School districts around Wichita are sending letters and e-mails to families explaining precautions they plan to take to guard against eye damage during the eclipse, and most are requiring parents to sign consent or opt-out forms.
“We want to make sure everybody can experience the great thing this eclipse is – the great learning experience – but minimize any risk to the students,” said Scott May, principal of Apollo Elementary School in Goddard.
Students in Wichita schools, the state’s largest district, don’t start classes until Wednesday.
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But most other area districts – including Derby, Maize, Andover and Goddard – started school this week. They are grappling with how to take advantage of the near total solar eclipse – the first in 148 years – and protect student safety.
A school in Crocker, Mo., canceled classes Monday rather than getting liability waivers signed by every parent. Other schools have said they will keep children inside for recess during the eclipse because of potential harm to students who look at the sun.
The Derby district just south of Wichita has secured about 7,500 eclipse-safe solar glasses – enough for every student and staff member – with donations from area businesses and some district funds.
Even so, the district is requiring families to return permission slips by Friday if they want their child to participate in viewing activities.
“An eclipse is a rare and striking phenomenon we don’t want our students to miss, but students and staff must carefully follow safety procedures,” the district said in a letter to families.
Children whose parents opt out “will instead watch televised coverage and complete an alternative activity from inside the school building,” the letter says.
Claravon Mathews, Derby’s coordinator of STEM programs, said activities will vary by school and grade level. She hopes most families will recognize the educational value of having their children head outdoors to view the eclipse at least briefly.
“It’s a spark. There aren’t that many times that you get an opportunity to excite kids like this,” Mathews said.
“Kids are naturally scientists, and they are naturally into what’s going on in the world around them. So when we can play on that and we can draw that out with them, it’s an educator’s dream.”
The partial eclipse will begin around 11:36 a.m. and end around 2:32 p.m. in Wichita, according to the National Weather Service. Nearly 93 percent of the sun will be blocked in Wichita at the height of the eclipse, shortly after 1 p.m.
Mathews said teachers could use the eclipse to talk about the solar system and the moon’s orbit around the Earth. Math teachers could use it to illustrate angles. History lessons could include myths surrounding eclipses, or how such phenomenon have been viewed by different cultures through the ages, she said.
“The way we learn is to hook information to something we experience,” Mathews said. “I can remember going outside to view a partial eclipse when I was a child, and how cool that was. … It’s a memory these kids will have forever.”
Maize and Andover schools sent similar letters to families this week, noting plans to take students outside to view the eclipse “but have precautions and safeguards in place.” Both districts are requiring that parents submit permission forms.
Experts warn that looking at the sun without proper eye protection can cause serious damage and even blindness. When watching a partial eclipse, even with cloud cover, you should wear eclipse glasses at all times or use another indirect method of viewing the eclipse, such as a pinhole projector.
Mathews, the Derby coordinator, said teachers are being encouraged to practice with students ahead of time – particularly with children in primary grades.
“We do want to be serious about the risks (to eyes), because you can’t feel it,” she said. “We plan to be extremely careful, but we do want to make sure our kids have a chance to experience this.”