PBC schools will excuse absences during eclipse; some schools will delay dismissal

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Palm Beach County’s public schools will allow students to view Monday’s solar eclipse with special protective glasses, but the viewing time will be limited to three minutes and students must get parents to sign a permission slip beforehand.

The schools will consider any absences and early departures Monday to be excused absences, giving parents additional cover to keep kids at home for the rare event, district officials announced Wednesday.

Parents who do decide to pick up their kids early are asked to do so before noon, although the school district this week advised principals that “if parents come after this time, we cannot prevent them from picking up their students.”

Students who attend school Monday may experience delays during dismissal, as schools are being instructed to reduce the amount of time that students are outdoors while waiting for parents or buses to arrive.

Alternatively, some middle schools are planning to hold students for an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day, until 4:20 p.m., to ensure that the eclipse’s peak is nearly finished by the time they leave campus.

RELATED: In reversal, PBC schools will let some kids watch Aug. 21 eclipse

The directives from school district leaders are an attempt to minimize the risk of any children damaging their eyes by staring too long at the eclipse, which will last from about 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday.

“Even during the eclipse when the sun is 99 percent covered, the remaining part of the sun is still bright enough to damage your eyes,” school district leaders cautioned in a memo to principals.

The school district is also encouraging parents to explain to their children the risks of staring at the eclipse without protective glasses.

The directive comes as the school district grapples with how to best allow teachers to use the eclipse as a teaching opportunity while ensuring students’ safety.

Solar Eclipse 2017: Our complete coverage

Last week the school district decided initially to require all students to remain indoors during the eclipse and prohibit outdoor viewing.

But administrators relented after protests from some schools that had already purchased protective glasses and had planned outdoor viewing sessions.

Schools can now bring students outside, but only in principal-authorized viewing events with glasses purchased directly by the school and approved by the American Astronomical Society. Students cannot bring their own glasses from home to use.

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Under the new guidelines issued this week, the school viewing events can only last three minutes, even with safety glasses.

The guidelines are causing some schools to reassess their plans for the eclipse.

At Christa McAuliffe Middle School west of Boynton Beach, the school spent $800 purchasing glasses for all students and staff members and had planned a half-hour viewing event.

That event will still go on, but educators will shorten it to just a few minutes to abide by the guidelines. During the rest of the day, science teachers have planned a series of educational events indoors.

“We’re excited,” said Principal Jeffrey Silverman. “We’ll time it and we’ll make sure everyone does the three minutes.”

When dismissal time comes, the school is planning to keep students indoors until parents arrive.

That will slow down the process, he said, but it will ensure less risk of students staring at the eclipse without protection.

“Normally when the bell rings at 4 the kids just come out front and wait,” Silverman said. “To avoid having them out there for a half-hour, we’re thinking we’ll just have them wait in the cafeteria.”

At Jupiter Middle School, science teachers purchased 100 sets of protective glasses and will give all students a chance to step outside in groups of 15 for a three-minute viewing.

“We’re making it work and I’m really excited,” said Principal Lisa Hastey. “The temptation was really to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do anything.’ But we’re doing it because we want the kids to be inspired.”

Her school is one of several middle schools that hope to avoid safety concerns during dismissal by holding the students for an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day, until 4:20 p.m. Students will also be removed from a building on campus Monday afternoon where they would have to walk outside to access a bathroom.

“That keeps everybody safe,” Hastey said.

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