While several school districts across the country are closing down Monday for the big solar eclipse, Lawrence Public Schools are staying open.
And they’re hoping kids will remain in school that day, too. Thanks to a donation from the University of Kansas, all students in the district will receive their own NASA-approved glasses to view the eclipse safely.
“We want the kids to be in school and learn and be able to experience this opportunity,” says Julie Heatwole, a counselor at Lawrence’s Sunflower Elementary School.
On Monday, Sunflower staff will host an all-school assembly heralding the start of another school year and the onset of that afternoon’s solar eclipse. Later, students will don their special glasses and venture outside to view the eclipse from 1 to 1:30 p.m. The peak of the eclipse is expected to occur at 1:07 p.m.
Younger kids will be encouraged to use all their senses in the experience, Heatwole says — listening for birds and other animals to quiet down, feeling the temperature drop and looking, of course, at the eclipse itself as the sky becomes dark.
The theme of the day, fittingly, is “Our Future’s So Bright, We Gotta Wear Shades!” Safety, Heatwole stresses, is paramount here. Before viewing the eclipse, teachers will screen a safety video for students. The kids won’t be allowed to go outside before putting on their eclipse glasses, Heatwole says.
As with other schools across the Lawrence district, parents who don’t want their student outside during the eclipse can opt out by notifying the school. Sunflower parents were notified earlier this month to contact Heatwole directly should they opt out.
Heatwole has some noneclipse activities planned in the school library should anyone choose not to participate, though as of Thursday morning, that hadn’t happened yet. All Sunflower teachers are on board, too, though someone (most likely Heatwole herself) will have to supervise the indoor activities for those who opt out.
But so far, she says, parents seem to be embracing the eclipse as a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity.
“I know some families are wanting to come and watch, and I know pretty much all staff are going outside to watch,” Heatwole says. “There’s a big interest, and a lot of parents are excited that we’re giving the kids the opportunity to participate in this, too.”
Sunflower staff is following procedures and safety precautions shared with all schools across the Lawrence district. Julie Boyle, the district’s director of communications, wrote in an email that it’s up to teachers whether (and how) they participate. Some, she said, will take their students outdoors to view the eclipse, while others may livestream the event in their classrooms or provide alternative activities.
Parents who choose to experience the eclipse with their children outside of school are asked to notify their child’s school of the excused absence for what would be considered a family educational activity, Boyle said.
Elsewhere in Douglas County
Other Lawrence-area school districts are staying open for the eclipse as well.
In the Eudora school district, all students and employees will be provided special glasses for the event, thanks to a partnership between the Eudora Schools Foundation and the Eudora Elementary School PTO. Teachers across the district are planning a variety of activities before, during and after the eclipse in an effort to make the event a memorable one for students, said Eudora Schools director of communications Kristin Magette.
Among the bigger events included in Monday’s lineup, she said, is an eclipse safety presentation for students at Eudora Middle School with Jillian Rodrigue, assistant director for Douglas County’s emergency management department.
Otherwise, Magette said, parents should expect to receive instructions soon, if they haven’t already, for opting out of the eclipse viewing.
The Baldwin City school district is also supplying eclipse glasses for all students and staff, Superintendent Paul Dorathy said. Baldwin City science teachers have shared eclipse-related lesson plans with colleagues across the district, and Dorathy expects every school to at least “attempt” its own outdoor eclipse viewings with students.
Parents were notified about eclipse plans earlier this week, Dorathy said. Any parents who prefer their children not participate are encouraged to call their school directly. Staff will provide alternative activities for students who opt out, he said.