If parents choose no other option, their children will remain at school longer than usual Aug. 21 in the Bulloch County school system. The schools are delaying dismissal both for safety reasons and learning opportunities with the solar eclipse.
“You talk about a real-life opportunity to infuse history, science, math, you know, it’s all there,” said Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson, “and everybody has had a really good time trying to plan how to make it a great day for our students.”
Still, the school system is also giving parents options to pick their children up early, by 1 p.m. that day, or even to keep them out all day as an excused absence. These options require signing and returning a form to the school by next Thursday. Again, the eclipse day will be the following Monday.
The time during which the moon will pass in front the sun and then away spans almost three hours. The U.S. Naval Observatory database gives an eclipse start time of roughly 1:13 p.m. and an end-time of about 4:08 p.m. specific to Statesboro’s longitude, latitude and elevation.
The path of the moon’s direct shadow, where the “totality” of the eclipse is expected to turn day to night for little less than three minutes, will pass from northwest to southeast over central South Carolina, not over Statesboro.
But the expected peak moment for the eclipse in the Statesboro area, 2:44 p.m., occurs close to the regular dismissal times of several of the schools. So, dismissal is being delayed until 3:40 p.m. at the elementary schools both for children who ride school buses and those who will ride home in cars.
At the middle and high schools, car-rider dismissal times will be 3:45 or 3:35 depending on the specific school. But bus departure times for middle and high school students will follow as much as an hour and five minutes later, ranging from 4:30 to 4:50 p.m. Transitions Learning Center and the prekindergarten programs at the high schools have their own departure times.
Yet another option provided on the form is for students who normally ride a bus to become car riders for the day, allowing them to take part in school-based eclipse activities but still leave sooner than the school buses.
The option of an all-day excused absence will accommodate families who want to travel out of the immediate area to experience the eclipse’s totality, said Hayley Greene, the school district’s public relations and marketing specialist.
Forms going home
The “Solar Eclipse Parent Form” and a separate notice, giving info on the eclipse plus the delayed dismissal times for each school, is posted on the school system website, www.bulloch.k12.ga.us, under a “Solar Eclipse Education” logo. The form and notice were also emailed to parents Friday, and paper copies should be sent home with students Friday or Monday, Greene said.
Announcing the plan during the Board of Education’s meeting Thursday night, Wilson emphasized the potential for eclipse-related teaching and learning.
“The schools are being provided the opportunity to make that a very relevant learning opportunity within their school context,” he said.
He credited Greene, Dr. Virginia Bennett who is executive director of the school system’s Office of Academic Support, and Dr. Yvette Ledford, also a director in that office, for coordinating the effort. But faculty and staff at the schools are planning how to use the added time, Greene said.
‘I will be issuing a special media advisory with a listing of key eclipse activities in our schools for that day,” she emailed.
As of Friday morning, Greene had received information from some of the schools but not all of them.
“Of course we’ve taken a lot of safety precautions,” Wilson said, adding that the delay will keep drivers off the road during “an environment of expectations.”
After noting the danger for anyone looking at the sun without proper protection, Wilson displayed a Wheaties cereal box made into a pinhole projector. This is used for viewing a dimmed reflection of the sun while looking away from it. Directions can be found through NASA’s website, https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov. Click on “Eclipse Kit” and look for “Cereal Box Eclipse Viewer.”
The notice to parents states that the school system consulted the Bulloch County Emergency Management Agency. Wilson also mentioned the Georgia EMA as a source of information in deciding to remain open.
“We can't speak for other districts, but many throughout the United States are remaining open and extending the day for learning,” the notice states. “Logistics are always different across school districts, so each makes decisions that are in the best interest of their students. This is a significant learning opportunity, so we are excited to share it with students.”
Some districts close
This part of the notice follows a question in boldface, “Why are some districts closing?”
For example, the Bulloch decision contrasts with that of the neighboring and similar-sized Effingham County School District. Effingham Superintendent Dr. Randy Shearouse announced a week ago that school there is cancelled for teachers and students on Aug. 21.
“The safety of our students is always our number one priority,” Shearouse said in his notice on social media. “By closing our schools we ensure the safety of our students, as well as many employees. I hope that you and your family are able to spend time together during this special event in a safe and enjoyable manner.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.