The world will be treated to a rare solar event Monday that will occur just two more times in the next 30 years, but most school children throughout Bakersfield won’t likely get the chance to see it for themselves.
That’s because school districts throughout the county, prompted by warnings from its insurance companies, are restricting students from heading outdoors when the solar eclipse occurs.
“Children should be closely supervised at all times by a responsible adult who has been briefed on the safety requirements associated with the viewing of a solar eclipse,” Robert Kretzmer, director of property and liability for Self-Insured Schools of California, wrote in a letter to all district superintendents on Wednesday.
The result of the warnings and liability? Most children who might otherwise experience history by gazing into the sky from their playgrounds will instead be viewing a NASA live stream on the web.
Restricting students from witnessing a historic event in the interest of safety isn’t just happening in Bakersfield. Districts across the country are limiting outdoor access, and one southern Illinois district has gone as far as canceling classes entirely Monday.
“Similar to other environmental hazards such as snow, ice and dangerously low temperatures that cause the district to use emergency days, the solar eclipse presents a hazard to students if they cannot be kept indoors during the entire time of exposure of almost three hours,” Superintendent Lynda Andre wrote in a memo to staffers.
Among local districts restricting outdoor activities Monday include the state’s largest elementary school district, Bakersfield City School District, Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, Fruitvale School District and Norris School District.
BCSD is keeping students indoors from 9 a.m. to noon and only allowing students outdoors to use the restroom, or to head to the cafeteria for lunch. But even in those circumstances, they must be accompanied by an adult and just keep their eyes to the ground, BCSD spokeswoman Irma Cervantes said.
Exceptions are being made for some classes that have submitted requests to host science lessons revolving around the eclipse, but only after district officials ensure teachers are providing appropriate pinhole projectors or glasses to wear, Cervantes said. The district is not providing any eye protection to students.
“It’s a difficult decision. We don’t want our students to miss out on the educational opportunity, but we want to make sure that if they see it, they’re doing it safely,” Cervantes said.
At Fruitvale School District, it’s a similar story. Students are being kept indoors from 9 to 11:45 a.m., and lunch periods are being pushed back so that there’s no chance kids could risk damaging their vision, said Superintendent Mary Westendorf, who added that the district cannot prioritize interest in the eclipse over student safety.
“Everyone is interested, and I’ve wondered myself, ‘What if I look at it? Can I be a daredevil?’” Westendorf asked. “Everything we’ve read says you can do serious damage to your eyes, and this isn’t an overstatement or hype. We need to take it seriously and make sure especially that our junior high kids who think they’re invincible don’t have the opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Olive Drive School in the Norris School District purchased a set of approved eclipse glasses for classes to use Monday, but are also requiring all recesses and lunch periods take place in classrooms.
“Staff will use their best efforts to make certain all students wear the eclipse glasses when viewing the sky,” Olive Drive Principal Brandy Rosander wrote in a letter to parents, where she also urged them to explain the dangers of viewing the eclipse with a naked eye to their children.
At PBVUSD, Assistant Superintendent Gerrie Kincaid said she’s received scant calls about the eclipse from parents, but the ones she has received haven’t been about whether kids will receive the opportunity to view the educational event.
“They’ve been about safety,” Kincaid said. “Not the opportunity to observe it.”