Snow day, now eclipse day? Why the celestial event sends some schools into darkness

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More than 60 years ago, Ralph Chou observed his first total eclipse while on vacation in northern Ontario at the age of 12.

He says seeing the moon pass in front of the sun was a life-changing experience.

“It set me on the path to where I am now, and a lot of my friends are in the same situation,” Chou said.

The professor emeritus of optometry and vision sciences at the University of Waterloo, who also has a degree in astronomy, says that when done safely, observing this rare phenomenon provides an opportunity to learning for children.

In just three months, on April 8, many will once again be able to witness the total eclipse in southeastern Ontario, parts of the United States and Mexico as well as eastern Canada and a large part of southern Quebec, notably Sherbrooke, Coaticook, Drummondville, Châteauguay, Sutton, Lac-Mégantic and certain parts of Montreal.

But anticipation of the phenomenon has recently caused the closure of several schools, particularly among those located on the “path of totality”, where the sun will be completely covered by the moon during the eclipse.

Although people can view the eclipse safely by wearing special glasses, school boards say the timing of the eclipse — around 3:30 p.m. ET — means students will go home after class, unsupervised and may not take the necessary precautions to observe safely. he.

A man looks through a telescope on a sunny day.
Ralph Chou photographed witnessing the August 1, 2008 total solar eclipse in western Xinjiang, China. (Submitted by Ralph Chou)

Julie Bolduc-Duval, of Thetford Mines, Que., is among those hoping schools will stay open.

For the past three years, the executive director of Discover the Universe, an astronomy training program that offers free workshops across the country, has been preparing schools and communities for the rare total solar eclipse.

“I fear that some of their plans will be destroyed by the school board’s decision to close. So it’s a little heartbreaking for them,” said Bolduc-Duval.

“I would like schools to seize this incredible opportunity.”

WATCH | See the trajectory of the eclipse which you can find on Eclipse Québec:

Orchestrating the “recipe for chaos” for eclipse viewing

Cynthia Royea, mother of a high school student in Lac-Brome, Quebec, hopes that certain schools will mark the phenomenon.

As the owner of a daycare in the area, she said she understands the challenges of supervising young children during such an event.

“At 14, (my son) is able to, you know, listen to directions. But if my kids were younger and there was no one-on-one, like a little ratio, I “I think the teacher would have a harder time making sure the kids wear their glasses,” Royea said.

“It depends on the age of the kids…It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, important thing. I hope it turns out to be something they remember.”

The child wears disposable eclipse glasses with 2017 written on them and looks up to the sky.
A young spectator looks skyward during a partial solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Chou, the optometry expert, says he understands why some schools choose to let children stay home. He says the timing for Canadian eclipse watchers is “absolutely appalling.”

“The eclipse starts just as your elementary schools are releasing, which means kids would normally be queuing for buses,” Chou said.

“Just the general problem of orchestrating all of this at the end of the day, when everyone can’t wait to go home, you know, it’s a recipe for chaos.”

WATCH | How to watch the solar eclipse safely:

A solar eclipse can hurt your eyes: how to observe it safely

A solar eclipse can seriously damage your eyes. Using eclipse glasses is just a safety tip for viewing the total eclipse.

On Thursday, several school boards in Ontario, including Toronto, had canceled classes. In Quebec, the Sommets School Service Center located in Magog, Quebec, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, confirmed that it would also make April 8 an educational day.

Although the Eastern Townships School Board does not plan to change the calendar and has ordered eclipse glasses for all students and staff, it says it is waiting for directives from the province to make a decision on whether or not to close schools. That day.

A black and white photo of a total solar eclipse.
Ralph Chou photographed the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 from the Willamette University campus in Salem, Oregon. He has traveled around the world observing several eclipses over the past several decades. (Submitted by Ralph Chou)

Children may be ‘a little more likely to be injured’

Although the risk of observing the eclipse while taking proper precautions is “almost zero,” Chou says viewing the eclipse without glasses can be harmful.

“We evolved under the sun, so our eyes are adapted to a sunny environment. The problem is that when an eclipse occurs, we look at the sun deliberately,” Chou said.

“We overcome this inherent aversion that we have.”

Chou says some people are more vulnerable to eye injuries during the eclipse depending on the weather, the person’s age or medications. He says children often have larger pupils, making them “a little more susceptible to damage.”

“So it’s very important that children, especially those under, let’s say, 11 or 12 years old, who don’t really understand why it’s important to follow instructions… Watch those children very, very carefully.”

Black sky with orange ring of light as the sun is eclipsed by the moon.
The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. Emotional sky watchers stood stunned across North America Monday as the sun disappeared behind the moon in a rare total eclipse that swept the continent from coast to coast for the first time in nearly a century. (Rob Kerr/AFP via Getty Images)

The school cannot guarantee that a 5 year old child will not take off their glasses

This consideration was part of the reason why Hauts-Cantons school service center The people of Estrie have decided to make April 8 an educational day.

Martial Gaudreau, general director of Hauts-Cantons, says that children would return from school during the eclipse.

“We can’t have enough adults to supervise the children on the bus and we can’t guarantee that a four or five year old won’t take their glasses off,” Gaudreau said.

Their decision follows conversations with the Estrie health authority.

In an emailed statement, the Quebec Ministry of Education said it would relay public health information to school boards and service centers for planning and student supervision.

The ministry said school boards will also post information pamphlets prepared by public health as they become available regarding the eclipse.

In the release, the ministry said local budgets cover the cost of eclipse glasses for school boards or can be provided free of charge by scientific organizations.

A few months ago, Mélissa Généreux, public health specialist and medical advisor at the Estrie Public Health Department, informed the school boards of the possible risks during the eclipse, in particular damage to vision.

She says health authorities have made recommendations to local service centers “while awaiting further (provincial) recommendations.”

She said health officials wanted school boards to be aware of the risks and how to mitigate them.

“Personally, I would not leave any of my children alone without adult supervision outside during the partial phase of the eclipse,” Généreux said.

“How can you make sure your kids won’t look at the sky? Because it’s going to be amazing, you know everyone will be tempted to look at the sun.”

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