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Younger Hall County students will be kept inside during eclipse
School officials concerned some children won't use protective glasses properly
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The solar eclipse set for Aug. 21, like this one from 2012 seen in Denver, will be total in the North Georgia mountains and near-total in the Hall County area. - photo by David Zalubowski

While Gainesville and Hall County students are being kept an hour longer to experience the eclipse at school, not all of the students will watch the event in the sky.

Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Hall County Schools, said elementary and younger middle school students will likely watch the eclipse on a screen inside schools because of safety concerns.

Bales said central office administrators will meet with school principals to finalize plans for the educational experiences during the eclipse in the next couple of weeks, but the guideline from Superintendent Will Schofield “is that elementary, for the most part, should plan to utilize technology, and the lessons that will be distributed out with regard to that.”

“Middle school will be kind of in the middle with middle school students in sixth and seventh looking more similar to the elementary experience,” Bales said. “We have high school courses that are taught at the middle school — science is one of them — and so, at middle school, I think it will be a mixed bag. I think at the high school we’re going to give a lot of discretion to teachers to experience it directly with the kids utilizing glasses. That’s kind of where we are with generics, but as far as directions better than that, we haven’t put anything out.”

Schofield was out of town Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Both Hall and Gainesville school systems announced plans last week to keep students an hour later on Aug. 21 so students and teachers can experience the eclipse at school. Both school districts have encouraged parents who want to enjoy the eclipse with their children to check them out around 1 p.m. that day before the event is expected to begin. The highest impact in Hall County is predicted to come around 2:30 p.m., and the eclipse will be over by 4 p.m.

Even with safety glasses designed to look at the sun directly, Bales said more adult supervision would be needed to make sure the younger students view the eclipse safely.

“We can’t guarantee a one-on-one ratio,” Bales said of the number of adults to students. “It’s kind of one of those things that’s really challenging. We’ve got some districts that canceled school so they wouldn’t be in the liability issues, you got others that canceled a half-day early because of the liability issues. There are people that are going to question whatever guidance we put out there, but we feel like it actually makes sense to say a 16-year-old is probably in one place, and a 6-year-old or a 7-year-old may be in a little bit of a different one. If you have a one-on-one ratio it might be different, but it’s going to present its challenges to us.”

Bales said the eclipse will still be a “teachable moment” at all grade levels.

“We expect that time and instruction to be specific to the eclipse,” he said.

Bales has heard from some people who prefer no students be allowed to directly view the eclipse.

“Some folks are saying, ‘Just don’t do it; it’s not worth the risk versus the reward when you can teach it and follow it and there’s going to be all these different video links,’” Bales added. “NASA is doing something where they’re following the line (of the eclipse) with some video footage. In our district, we’re building some supports for each of the different levels, so we’re going to have resources that we’re going to be able to provide out to schools.”

Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams said the issue will be discussed in his district during a meeting with principals Tuesday.

“We’ve suggested extreme caution about viewing the eclipse without appropriate eyewear,” Williams said. “I’ve heard from people in general who thought it was a great idea to keep them in school because of the great educational opportunity, but I have not heard much outside of that. I would assume that parents that would have a major disagreement with it would have the opportunity to take their child out of school if they wanted to.”