First day of school postponed due to eclipse

Shawn Hardy

The first day of the 2017-18 school year is being pushed back one day in the Greencastle-Antrim School District due to the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, and the vision hazards it poses.

The first coast-to-coast solar eclipse since 1918 will peak at 75 to 80 percent coverage of the sun by the moon Monday afternoon. Looking directly at the eclipse can cause lasting eye damage.

Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent, said her administrative team started raising concerns about the eclipse several weeks ago. She announced the one-day opening delay in a letter to parents Monday.

“The beginning of the eclipse is to occur in our area around 1:15 p.m., with maximum coverage of 80 percent occurring around 2:40 p.m., with the end of the eclipse around 4 p.m. Normal dismissal time for our district begins at 2:25 p.m. for our middle and high school students and 3 p.m. for our primary and elementary students. Many primary and elementary students will be on the bus until after 4 p.m., especially on the first day of school. Due to the safety risks associated with viewing the eclipse, it is imperative that students are not outdoors during these hours,” Trail wrote.

She opted not to go with an early dismissal because things always take longer on the first day of school and she worried children would still be on the bus during the eclipse.

“If I said, ‘Don’t look up,’ they’re going to want to do it,” Trail said. “It’s not worth the risk.”

The make-up day is Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018.

Dr. C. Gregory Hoover, former Greencastle-Antrim School District superintendent, is taking the same approach in the Shippensburg Area School District, where he is serving as interim superintendent.

“You can’t guarantee 5-year-olds will keep glasses on, even if they have glasses,” Hoover said, referring to solar glasses, which filter the sun for safe eclipse-viewing.

“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Hoover, who also is dealing with the aftermath of an Aug. 4 lightning strike that wiped out the electrical panels at Shippensburg Area Senior High School. Common areas like the auditorium and cafeteria and are being used for a schedule that has ninth-10th grade and 11th-12th-grade students at the school in half-day combinations.

The Chambersburg Area School District also will be closed on Monday, while early dismissals are planned in the Waynesboro Area and Tuscarora school districts.

Safe viewing

“While the eclipse's occurrence provides an exciting and rare opportunity to observe the movements of the sun and moon, it also poses a serious risk of harm to the eyes,” according to a news release from the Pennsylvania Optometric Association. “The sun emits invisible infrared waves that can cause serious damage to the eyes, including blindness. The sun is so bright that our instincts normally cause us to look away, but during the eclipse, the sun's rays may not seem as intense and we may be tempted to watch the movement of the moon across the face of the sun. Although you may not feel discomfort while watching an eclipse, the risk to your eyes remains the same as when looking at the fully exposed sun. Looking at the eclipse can result in a condition known as solar retinopathy, which is damage to the retina, the portion of the eye responsible for collecting light and transmitting images to the optic nerve. Damage to the retina from the sun could be permanent and could cause blindness.”

The eclipse can be safely viewed with a pinhole projector or solar glasses. Information from the Pennsylvania Optometric Association says:

Pinhole Projectors can be made by punching a small hole in a piece of cardboard. The sun's rays, positioned behind you, can pass through the pinhole in the cardboard and shine on a plain white paper below. You can then safely watch the projection of the sun on the card below the projector. NASA has templates on its website at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.

A second alternative for safe viewing is solar glasses. These glasses have lenses that filter the sun. If using solar glasses to observe the eclipse, it is crucial to make sure that the glasses are stamped with the International Safety Organization's reference number 12312-2. This indicates that the lenses meet the necessary safety standards to block the harmful rays. It is also important to use only new glasses. Lenses more than three years old are expired and no longer safe to protect retinas from damage.

Where to watch

A solar eclipse viewing party will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at Renfrew Park in Waynesboro. The event, organized by Renfrew Institute, is free and open to the public. 

Waynesboro resident Todd Toth, a space scientist with the NASA Goddard GLOBE Program at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will be on hand to guide the experience, along with Renfrew Institute’s environmental staff. Toth is a former Waynesboro Area Senior High science teacher.

The maximum view in the Waynesboro area will be at 2:38 p.m. Those who attend the event at Renfrew can help NASA scientists gather data about the eclipse using the GLOBE Solar Eclipse Observer app on their smartphone or tablet. (The free app is available at: https://www.globe.gov/globe-data/data-entry/globe-observer)

Toth will also bring equipment to measure temperature, clouds, cloud cover, contrails, barometric pressure and relative humidity. 

Safety viewing glasses will be provided, while supplies last.

For more information, visit www.renfrewinstitute.org or call the institute at 717-762-0373.

Eclipse Over Monocacy will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Monocacy National Battlefield Visitor Center, Urbana Pike, Frederick. There will be ranger talks, citizen science and other eclipse activities. A limited number of safe solar glasses and pinhole projectors will be available. Those attending can bring their own NASA approved solar viewers, snacks and blankets or chairs.

The program is free. For more information, visit the park's website at www.nps.gov/mono, see the park on Facebook or call the visitor center at 301-662-3515.