School board split on whether or not to cancel school for eclipse day

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Parents and teachers will have to wait another 24 hours for a definitive answer as to whether or not Marshall Public Schools will be in session Monday, Aug. 21.

That date is significant due to the total solar eclipse expected to take place, with Marshall directly in the center of its path. That means Marshall will witness the eclipse for a longer duration than most other cities in it's path from Oregon to South Carolina, covering only a section of central Missouri. Such an event has reportedly not been viewable only in the United States, as this one will be, since 1776.

MPS had originally scheduled that day off when it approved the 2017-2018 academic calendar on Feb. 21. Board Treasurer Leslie Huston said at that time, she had believed all districts in the event's path had scheduled the day off school in order to allow teachers and students the opportunity to enjoy the rare occurrence with their families. Only later did the board discover that only MPS and one other district in the event's path would not be in session that day.

The board was deadlocked Wednesday, March 22, concerning a motion to amend the academic calendar to reinstate that date as a school day with Huston and Ed Harper voting in favor while Tim Schulte and Jeff Hemeyer stood opposed. Remaining board members Larry Godsey, Brad Guthrey and Mike Mills were not in attendance. Unable to reach a majority vote, the matter was tabled until a special session the following evening.

Harper stated he believed it would be better to have school, so as not to negatively affect members of the community who will have to work that day by then having to hire child care for an extra day. Schulte questioned how reversing the decision not to have school on that day would affect the rest of the calendar.

Huston noted the board had heard from multiple teachers hoping to have the day off to observe the event with their families.

"I am 100 percent empathetic to the fact that they have family coming in, and they want to spend it with their children and their families, but I believe as a whole, for our district and all the children in our district that we would be doing a huge disservice to them by not having school that day because there are going to be many, many parents in the community who don't have the opportunity to take off work that day, and those kids are going to be left to their own devices."

She added that if students were out of session, the district would have to send the protective eye-ware designed for viewing the event home with the students on Friday afternoon, with good odds that the glasses could then be lost by the time of the eclipse. If students were in session, the glasses would be distributed at the time of the event, ensuring all of the district's students could safely view it. School, if in session that day, Huston said would need to be a more casual event, and that parents should be allowed to visit as extra chaperones should they desire.

The board heard from University of Missouri Astronomy Professor Angela Speck and representatives of Marshall-Saline Development Corporation's Solar Eclipse Steering Committee about weighting all the factors of having school in session or not in session that day. Speck noted the benefits of being able to incorporate the experience into the curriculum.

"From the point of view of the national committee, the eclipse is a great opportunity to engage people with science in a way that they would never normally be engaged," Speck said. "But on top of that, it is just an amazing event that most people never experience, and we want people to get the most out of it. From that point of view, it the recommendation of our committee, to just the world in general, that we would like students to be in school whenever possible. …There are a lot of material and a lot of opportunities for teachers to really make the most of this," Speck said. "But also to really make this a safe environment for children, and I'm not sure that them being left at home alone would necessarily lead them to being safe."

The times when the moon is only partially between the Earth and the sun are the only points when it is dangerous to look at the sun, Speck said, but noted that if the students are home, there may not be anybody available to supervise and make sure that they wear the glasses at the appropriate times.

Experts estimate the eclipse will occur for 2 minutes and 41 seconds in Marshall sometime around 1:30 p.m. Speck noted because of the time frame, most of the visitors viewing the eclipse, expected to double the population of the town for a day, would then leave shortly thereafter and would thus not affect transportation home from school a couple of hours later.

Contact Arron Hustead at ahustead@marshallnews.com

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