UPDATE: In reversal, PBC schools will let kids watch Aug. 21 eclipse

UPDATE: Palm Beach County’s public schools have rescinded their blanket ban on letting students watching the Aug. 21 solar eclipse outdoors, hours after The Palm Beach Post reported that principals had been instructed to keep all kids inside.

In an email memo sent to school leaders Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said that schools would now be allowed to let students observe the eclipse directly in “principal-approved” outdoor sessions with protective sunglassses.

Principals have to approve the sessions prior to Aug. 21, Christiansen wrote. Other outdoor activities will still be canceled or moved indoors.

“Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or blindness,” Christiansen wrote. “It is important that you do not look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection.”

Here’s the relevant excerpt of Christiansen’s new memo, which was sent to administrators at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday:

“In order to provide clarification to our previous memo regarding the upcoming solar eclipse (attached), we are providing the following information:

“Our School District and school principals are responsible to provide a safe environment for all students. Schools can participate in a principal-approved “structured eclipse observation activity” using appropriate eyewear.* Principals must approve these activities prior to August 21, and must ensure every safety precaution is taken for eclipse-related lessons. Principals should review eclipse plans with their principal supervisor.”

ORIGINAL STORY: Palm Beach County’s public schools will require all students to stay indoors during the peak hours of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse to protect their safety, according to an internal memo.

All county schools must move normal outside activities indoors from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., including sports, recess, physical education, band practice and after-care programs, Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen wrote Tuesday in an directive to principals, a copy of which was obtained by The Palm Beach Post.

Rather than watch the eclipse outdoors, the county’s public schools are being asked to instead let students watch it on screens “for safe indoor viewing,” Christiansen wrote.

The rule will not affect school dismissal times, but educators are being asked to be extra careful when releasing students because of the “increased dangers of distracted drivers and pedestrians.”

“Drivers should avoid the roads, if possible, during the eclipse event,” Christiansen wrote.

The directive also prohibits schools from purchasing viewing glasses, which can allow children and adults to observe the eclipse safely.

A school district spokeswoman declined to comment on the memo but said schools plan to provide information about the eclipse to parents this week. The first day of school is Monday.

The school district’s directive to the county’s more than 180 public schools comes as schools across the country are struggling with how to handle the historic eclipse, which will be at its height around 3 p.m.

It’s the first total solar eclipse in 99 years to cross the nation coast-to-coast.

Some school systems nationwide are opting to cancel classes for the day to avoid the risk of students watching the eclipse unsafely. Other schools are purchasing protective glasses and encouraging students to view the historic event.

Because the sun will be more than 80 percent blocked by the moon, it will be easier to look at, raising the prospect that children could damage their vision if allowed to stare at it without proper eye protection.

But the decree is likely to upset some students and teachers who saw the eclipse as a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to learn and be immersed in science, but instead we have to be inside streaming it online and hoping the infrastructure doesn’t crash,” said one Palm Beach County elementary school teacher familiar with the edict.

Several school districts in Georgia, where a portion of the state will experience totality, have delayed dismissal times to make sure students safely view the eclipse. Atlanta Public Schools purchased 50,000 glasses for students.

While South Florida will only experience about 80 percent of the sun covered during the eclipse, experts said it’s worth seeing.

“The fact that this one is going to be so deep is going to be very cool,” said Yan Fernandez, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Central Florida. “That just doesn’t happen very often.”

Some experts who missed previous chances to view eclipses say they have come to regret it.

Florida Atlantic University astronomy professor Eric Vandernoot was in the third grade during the 1979 total solar eclipse. He said his teachers were so fearful of the event that they kept the students not only inside during it, but moved them into interior hallways.

Instead of making pinhole viewers to see the eclipse or watching it through safety glasses, Vandernoot listened to a lesson on how to properly brush his teeth.

“Don’t do that to kids, they will never forget missing it,” Vandernoot said. “In 1979 we didn’t have the Internet. Google didn’t exist, so getting teachers to understand how to do things safely was maybe a concern.”

But that’s not the case today.

“If you are a parent, go and talk to your school and persuade them to do something special,” said Ivona Cetinic, an eclipse researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s an awesome event.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

NEW: Florida man dies after he’s sucker punched at gas station
NEW: Florida man dies after he’s sucker punched at gas station

A 62-year-old man died after he was sucker punched while sitting outside a gas station in the Florida Keys, news reports say.   Steven Sanderson, who is homeless, was outside a Chevron station on Friday night when Fred R. Hauch, 53, hit him, the FlKeyNews reports. Sanderson struck his head when he fell to the ground; he died on Sunday at...
JUST IN: Theft scheme targeted Home Depot stores; man faces charges
JUST IN: Theft scheme targeted Home Depot stores; man faces charges

A Loxahatchee man is facing charges of fraud and retail theft after he and an accomplice allegedly schemed to steal thousands of dollars from Home Depots throughout Palm Beach County as well as Martin and St. Lucie counties, according to an arrest report. Michael Johnson Hunnewell, 29, is facing seven counts of retail theft of $300 or more and fraud...
BREAKING: Pedestrian hit by vehicle west of Lantana
BREAKING: Pedestrian hit by vehicle west of Lantana

A pedestrian was hit by a vehicle Tuesday morning southeast of the village limits, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue authorities said. The wreck happened near Aquarius Boulevard and Brady Lane, in the Lakes of Sherbrooke community west of Florida’s Turnpike and north of Lantana Road. The extent of the pedestrian’s injuries was not immediately...
NEW: West Palm woman, Lantana man plead guilty to pickax robberies
NEW: West Palm woman, Lantana man plead guilty to pickax robberies

Four people, including a West Palm Beach woman and a Lantana man, have plead guilty to federal charges of taking part in a string of smash-and-grab burglaries and robberies in Palm Beach County and Port St. Lucie, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Victoria Mia DeJesus, 20, of West Palm Beach plead guilty to receiving stolen firearms and...
LATEST: Wellington man accused of menacing bicyclists with Bentley
LATEST: Wellington man accused of menacing bicyclists with Bentley

A Wellington man is facing two counts of aggravated assault after he allegedly menaced three bicyclists with his Bentley, according to an arrest report. One of the bicylists is a veteran Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy, records show. Richard Pitera, 59, was booked Aug. 15 into the Palm Beach County Jail and released two days later on $20,000...
More Stories