Metro-east school districts adapt for Monday’s solar eclipse. Here’s how

Next Monday afternoon, a total solar eclipse will cross southern Illinois as it traverses the country, and some metro-east school districts are changing their instructional plans for the day.

A handful of metro-east districts that are near to or within the eclipse’s “path of totality” — the area where people can see the moon completely cover the sun — will be closed Monday.

Most others are operating as usual and organizing activities to engage students with the celestial phenomenon that won’t happen again in the contiguous United States until August 2044. Some school districts will have early release to avoid dismissing students during the eclipse.

School will be in session as normal for Belleville 201 students, Superintendent Brian Mentzer said, but the science departments at Belleville West and East high schools are working on activities for teachers and students to use the upcoming eclipse as a learning opportunity.

Similarly at Belleville 118, students will be in attendance as any other day, but the schools are planning viewing activities for students, faculty and staff, Superintendent Ryan Boike said.

In a March 22 email to all 118 families, Boike wrote: “Our schools are buzzing with anticipation as our dedicated educators plan individualized, in-school activities suitable for their unique environments. These activities are designed to offer a personalized and engaging exploration of the solar eclipse while ensuring the safety and comfort of our students.”

Parents must complete a permission slip to allow their child to participate in outdoor eclipse-viewing activities, and student absences Monday will be excused if a family decides to keep their child home to celebrate the eclipse or go on a trip to the path of totality.

The path of totality and partial contours crossing the U.S. for the total solar eclipse occurring on April 8, 2024.
The path of totality and partial contours crossing the U.S. for the total solar eclipse occurring on April 8, 2024.

District 118 schools will provide eclipse glasses that meet ISO standards to those who participate, and the district is asking parents to go over eclipse safety precautions with their child in advance regardless of whether their child will be participating in a viewing activity.

Likewise in other metro-east districts such as East St. Louis 189, Collinsville 10 and Red Bud 132, students will have regular school days and organized eclipse-related activities with glasses provided to students, faculty and staff, district officials told the BND.

O’Fallon 203 will run an altered schedule to allow students the opportunity to observe the eclipse during the school day, and some classes will travel to the path of totality to view. The high school will provide glasses for all students who choose to participate in eclipse-viewing activities and provide a signed permission slip.

Early dismissals & closings

While Edwardsville 7 canceled school for the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse, schools will remain open this time around, according to Mary Ann Mitchell, public relations and communications coordinator.

Edwardsville High School will be dismissing an hour early at 12:45 p.m. as a safety precaution, however, so that students aren’t getting out in the middle of the eclipse, she said.

In Alton 11, there will be no afternoon session at the Early Childhood Center and school will be dismissing early at:

  • 11:25 a.m. for East, North and West elementary schools

  • 11:30 a.m. for Mark Twain K-8 students

  • 11:40 a.m. for Eunice Smith, Gilson Brown, Lewis and Clark, and Lovejoy elementary schools

  • 12:15 p.m. for Alton middle and high schools and Mark Twain 9-12 students

Grant 110 will have a half day Monday since normal dismissal falls during prime eclipse-viewing time. No lunch will be served, but buses will be running. Students will be sent home with eclipse glasses.

Some districts closer to or within the eclipse’s path of totality have opted to close Monday, including Ashley 15, Nashville 49 and Nashville 99 in Washington County, Chester 139 in Randolph County and Waterloo 5 in Monroe County.

While Waterloo schools were originally scheduled to be in attendance, Superintendent Brian Charron said, the district had some concerns with the timing of the eclipse being during dismissal and the difficulty of finding substitute teachers as a larger number of teachers than normal were requesting a personal day April 8.

The school board agreed to survey faculty and staff as well as parents to see if they preferred school not be in session Monday, he said. About 65% of faculty and staff and 75% of parents who responded to the survey said they preferred students to not be in attendance the day of the eclipse.

As a result, Waterloo 5 amended its calendar to add a day at the end of the school year in place of Monday, April 8.

“We certainly didn’t want to burden families, but when we learned that the vast majority of families wanted to have the day off anyway, we felt that it made sense to make this decision,” Charron said.

The district has still acquired eclipse glasses and will be providing a set of two to every student so that they can enjoy the eclipse with their families, he added. Anything educational related to the eclipse will happen this week in advance of the historic event to come Monday.

Is your school district adapting Monday, April 8, for the solar eclipse? Email Education and Environment Reporter Kelly Smits at ksmits@bnd.com to have your district added.

This story may be updated.