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Gainesville, Hall schools to keep students later for eclipse Aug. 21

The Gainesville and Hall County school systems will keep students at school an extra hour Aug. 21 because of the total eclipse of the sun expected to occur that afternoon.

Both districts released statements Thursday afternoon announcing that all schools will dismiss an hour later than usual that day. Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams and Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said the statements and the timing of their releases were coordinated between the two school systems.

“For me certainly there were two issues going on,” said Schofield. “One was little kids on buses during an eclipse. Another one right behind it was what a teachable moment. We think we’ve set it up where we can take advantage of it at the school level. For parents who may want to do that with their own kids, we’ve given a window where they can check them out early and take advantage of that as a family, so I think we’ve landed in a reasonable place.”

Georgia is expected to have a view of a total solar eclipse for the first time in 38 years. A total eclipse of the sun occurs when the sun appears to darken because the moon passes between Earth and the sun, causing the moon to temporarily cast its shadow on Earth.The eclipse is expected to be visible in Hall County from 1-4 p.m. with the best view coming around 2:30 p.m., according to the statements.

The statement said there were also concerns about safety if students were released from school before or during the eclipse.

“Children on school buses and student drivers may be intrigued by this unusual phenomenon and be tempted to stare into the sun, which could cause serious damage to the eyes,” according to the statements.

“We had to weigh the facts of either releasing kids early or holding kids late,” Williams said. “Because of our current release times and the opportunity to use the eclipse as a teachable lesson and to integrate it into actually what we do which is to teach our children, we decided that it was better to hold our kids just a little bit longer that day so that they could experience something that may only happen once in a lifetime.

“When you deal with the number of families that we have that work and we try to do an early release, there are a lot of plans that have to be made for a lot of our families,” Williams added.

Schofield said Hall County’s digital learning employees have been putting together separate lessons for kindergarten to third grade, fourth through sixth grades and ninth through 12th grades that students will get to see several days before the eclipse.

“We can preview it and it lets kids know what’s coming,” Schofield said. “We’ve also got our technology department looking at all the best ways to view it via technology in real time.”

Williams said his office has not given any specific direction or lessons to schools other than encouraging the schools to take advantage of the educational opportunity.

“Each school may do something a little different,” Williams said. “We may see the high school really get heavily involved in some of the curriculum planning and projects, and we may start to adjust from different grades as we go down.”

Both districts also announced that they will make up for the extra time in school on Aug. 21 by dismissing students two hours early Dec. 15, the final day of classes before winter break for both school systems. Williams said the school systems didn’t have to make up the time.

“It was just a good show of support for the commitment that our students, staff and families are going to be doing on that day, just to reward and to help support them, showing that we are taking into account that we are keeping them longer on a school day,” Williams said.

Schofield added that the early dismissal on the last day before winter break should not have any significant effect on school that day.

“That’s right before Christmas break and historically that has not been our most productive afternoon of the year,” he said.

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