Midlands schools plan delayed starts because of August eclipse

Midlands schools plan delayed starts because of August eclipse

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - At the South Carolina State Museum, education Director Tom Falvey is ready for August 21, 2017.

"Really, it's kind of a once in a lifetime kind of thing for so many people," Falvey said.

That day - during the middle of the day - Columbia will experience a total solar eclipse. Eclipse watchers in the Midlands can expect to see a 360-degree sunset, about two-and-a-half minutes of darkness, and spectacular views of the sun's corona.

"This is an amazing opportunity and, possibly, one time that we get to see it in our lifetime, so for a student to miss this, or anybody to miss this, I think would be a real shame," Falvey said.

Coincidentally, the eclipse will come on a day when most school districts would normally welcome students back from summer break.

"It being the very first day there's always a lot of confusion, so they'll have to do a lot of planning and make sure teachers, administrators, and parents are ready for that," Falvey said.

In other words, it could be a hectic day because of the early afternoon darkness and hundreds of thousands of visitors in town – and on the roads.

Lawmakers are looking at a couple plans to bring students back a few days earlier to alleviate some of the headaches. The senate advanced a plan on Thursday.

"The concern that we have is really in the House bill right now. They've amended it to mandate that schools not only provide the instruction, which is a great thing. But to mandate that schools provide an opportunity for students to view or observe the solar eclipse," said Debbie Elmore, the Director of Governmental Relations and Communications with the South Carolina School Boards Association.

Elmore said there are instances from the past where the state was liable after students suffered eye damage from looking at an eclipse while at school. It's part of the reason she thinks a lot of school districts will opt to bring students back from vacation a day or two after the eclipse.

And that seems to be what most districts here in the Midlands plan to do.

Richland School District One, Richland Two, Lexington One, Lexington Two, and Lexington Three all plan to welcome students back from summer break on the Tuesday after the eclipse. Lexington-Richland School District Five will welcome them back on Wednesday.

Districts in Sumter and Newberry Counties haven't made decisions just yet.

The Kershaw County School District is, right now, planning to bring students back on Monday, but the district plans to dismiss early before the eclipse.

District officials from various counties believe it would be a safety risk to release students from their schools as the eclipse's darkness sets in.

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