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Indy schools split on how to handle Monday’s eclipse

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Monday’s solar eclipse is the first in the United States since 1979, and another won’t be seen again until 2024.

Experts explain that on an ordinary day, someone who looks directly at the sun can only view it for a matter of seconds, then will instinctively look away as your body protect its eyes. However, come Monday, optometrist Dr. Penn Moody said that instinct won’t take over, as the majority of the sun will be blocked. He said the blocked sun’s rays can still cause serious damage to unprotected eyes.

That has parents in Indiana worried about their children in school on Monday afternoon. School districts in Indianapolis are taking a variety of approaches to keeping kids safe, while still allowing them to experience this powerful event.

Officials with Indianapolis Public Schools’ Center for Inquiry School 2, off New Jersey Street downtown, has been preparing for months.

“We have been planning for the solar eclipse since before school was back in session,” Principal Andrea Hunley said. “We started planning this summer with our science committee here to make sure we were really making this event a teachable moment for our students.”

Hunley said the school is offering all its students — 400-plus in kindergarten through eighth grade — a chance to go outside Monday and see the eclipse in person with provided, approved safety glasses.

“These astrological events often happen in our night sky, so our youngest students don’t have a chance to experience it because it’s after their bedtime,” Hunley said. “This is something that’s happening during the daytime while they’re awake, and I feel like it’s our job to make sure they experience it.”

Hunley said her staff as a safety precaution has scheduled extra chaperones, recruited Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers to be sun-viewing role models, organized a school-sized supply of eclipse glasses, which they call tools, not toys, and even called in an astrophysicist from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to give kids a science lesson days before the event.

“Hopefully, it’ll inspire them to learn more about astronomy or any science really,” Edward Rhoads said between presentations to students Friday. “Even if people don’t go into fields that are science-related, understanding our world is better because we’ll make decisions that impact our world.”

Hunley said safety is her first priority and she has sent all her students home with a waiver to be signed by a parent or guardian and returned before Monday, letting parents opt-out if they’re worried about their child’s safety. Hunley said, so far, all returned waivers are signed.

IPS spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black said Center for Inquiry School 2 and Longfellow STEM Middle School volunteered to host eclipse day activities on a schoolwide basis, while others in IPS are happening a class by class.

The 350-plus Longfellow students can also view the eclipse outside with glasses provided by The Link Observatory in Martinsville, according to IPS officials.

“We leave it up to each of our school administrators,” Black said, “and some of our schools have decided to rather than have the safety factor of wrangling kids, maybe watch the livestream from NASA and experience it just in a different way.”

Wayne Township’s Maplewood Elementary School has opted for an indoor approach and will keep all students inside, displaying a livestream webcast from the direct path of the eclipse.

“We are really lucky in Wayne,” said Maplewood Principal Moira Clark. “We have a science guy, Rick Crossland, and Rick is going to be down in Carbondale, Illinois, and he’s going to livestream during the whole day all of the phases of the solar eclipse.”

Clark said the students already know Crossland from classroom visits, through this partnership with the Indiana Department of Education and WFYI-TV. Students will learn about the eclipse indoors all day, including with an inside recess.

“It was seen as a safe and really valuable way to give our kids the solar eclipse experience without worrying about any of the maybe dangers that exist with them looking up at the sun,” Clark said.

Regardless of how they do it, educators agree Monday’s eclipse is a gigantic opportunity for young learners.

“I remember the different eclipse experiences I had growing up,” Clark said, “and you remember them your entire life because it’s kind of a unique special thing.”

“We’re really hoping that we will spark the next great scientist here,” added Center for Inquiry School 2’s Hunley. “In our building we have astronomers who are sitting in our classrooms, they just don’t know they’re interested in astronomy yet, so it’s our job to make sure we give them opportunities to spark interest.”