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Schools taking cautious approach to 'spectacular and rare' eclipse

The 'spectacular and rare' celestial event is set to unfold over Canada, the United States and Mexico on April 8. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via The Associated Press - image credit)
The 'spectacular and rare' celestial event is set to unfold over Canada, the United States and Mexico on April 8. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via The Associated Press - image credit)

Most school boards in the Ottawa area are rescheduling a PD day to coincide with a solar eclipse on April 8, citing the potential dangers for students and bus drivers.

The Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario, Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est and Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l'Est ontarien have all moved a PD day that was originally scheduled for April 26 up to April 8, according to a news release issued Wednesday.

"Viewing the eclipse without proper eye protection presents potential risks of eye injury and permanent damage to eyesight," the release said.

"Some challenges may also be encountered in terms of school transportation, both in terms of bus driver availability and traffic during the eclipse."

These boards have also moved a PD day to April 8:

  • Ottawa Catholic School Board.

  • Upper Canada District School Board.

  • Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario.

  • Renfrew County District School Board.

  • Renfrew County Catholic District School Board.

  • Limestone District School Board.

  • Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board.

  • Hastings-Prince Edward District School Board.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has not yet decided on a change, according to a spokesperson.

Some school boards in western Quebec told Radio-Canada they're working with the province's education ministry to see if changes are needed.

'Really rare' total eclipse

The "spectacular and rare" celestial event is set to unfold over parts of Canada, the United States and Mexico, according to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

As the moon aligns perfectly between the Earth and the sun, temporary darkness will sweep across the Ottawa Valley and Quebec.

A partial eclipse will occur from 2:15 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., with the total eclipse around 3:30 p.m., depending on where you are in the region.

Map of the path of totality for the solar eclipse of April 8, 2024, in Canada.
Map of the path of totality for the solar eclipse of April 8, 2024, in Canada.

The Canadian Space Industry issued this map showing what residents of eastern Canada can expect on April 8. (Canadian Space Agency)

Astronomy enthusiasts and researchers are planning carefully for the event.

"It'll be about three minutes and 30 seconds of totality, so I really can't wait," Gary Boyle said.

For nearly 30 years, Boyle has been working as an astronomy educator, presenting lectures at schools, provincial park campgrounds and retirement homes.

He even has asteroid named after him.

"We've seen partial events in the past, but to see a total eclipse is really rare for our neck of the woods," Boyle said.

This part of the country hasn't witnessed a total solar eclipse since 1972, and the next one will be in 2106, according to the CSA.

Watching the eclipse safely

Boyle understands the school board's decision, but worries kids who are kept home are also at risk.

"It really starts … when everyone's getting out of school, which means there'll be no teacher supervision and parents won't be around if the kids are kept at home."

He said looking at the sun without protection should be avoided at all costs.

"Once you damage your eyes, that's it. There's no going back and people have gone blind trying to look at an eclipse."

A fellow stargazer nominated Ottawa astronomer Gary Boyle to have an asteroid named after him because of his work educating the public about the night sky.
A fellow stargazer nominated Ottawa astronomer Gary Boyle to have an asteroid named after him because of his work educating the public about the night sky.

A fellow stargazer nominated Ottawa astronomer Gary Boyle, seen here in a file photo, to have an asteroid named after him because of his work educating the public about the night sky. (Submitted)

He recommends using a telescope with an appropriate filter, wearing eclipse glasses or looking through a sheet of No. 14 welder's glass.

Better for teachers, student safety

Claire Poisson, a teacher in Ottawa, was surprised to hear about the shift in schedule.

"I'm not sure about closing an entire school for a solar eclipse," she laughed.

She does think that families are better equipped than busy teachers to make sure kids are keeping their eyes safe.

"Considering the number of teachers versus number of students in the classroom, trying to maintain that sort of management is tough," she said.

"As long as they're keeping the regulated number of PD days," Poisson added. "That's something that the teachers really need and that the school boards really need."

You can always read about the eclipse later, but Boyle thinks it could prove unforgettable for families experiencing the event together safely.

"It's like a hockey game," he said. "You would so much rather see a goal in person."