By Kavahn Mansouri
Missourian Staff Writer
As the total solar eclipse nears, many school districts in Franklin County have reversed course and are now closing for the day while others are staying open and planning special activities.
The total solar eclipse is expected to bring thousands of tourists to the county Monday, Aug. 21, which has caused some concerns about traffic and emergency response times.
Franklin County will be in the center of the eclipse’s path, making the total time of complete darkness longer in cities like Washington, Union and St. Clair.
Several school districts cited safety concerns and possible issues with incoming and outgoing traffic at its buildings as the reason for closing.
“It is impossible for us to predict what may happen; therefore, we agree with our local emergency management and transportation personnel regarding ‘erring on the side of caution,’ ” and closing for the day, the Washington School District told its parents.
Washington initially planned to stay open and hold special educational activities at each of its buildings about the eclipse. The district also purchased special eyeglasses for all of its students. Those will now be sent home with students instead.
Washington wasn’t alone in its decision to err on the side of caution. On Thursday, both the Meramec Valley R-III and Union R-XI districts decided to cancel classes as well.
“Local and county emergency service personnel have been very helpful, but since this is truly a ‘once-in-a-lifetime event,’ they admit that due to the ‘unknown,’ it is impossible for them to know how quickly they will be able to respond to any request for aid should an emergency occur,” the Union School District said in a statement to parents.
Union Superintendent Steve Weinhold said with roughly 3,000 students in school, if an emergency situation were to arise and traffic kept EMS from getting to a school, students could be put in real danger.
“We had been meeting with the local agencies and the city and discussing the eclipse with other school administrators — Washington in particular — and it’s such an unknown of how much traffic is going to be in town that we wondered if emergency vehicles could even get to school if there was an emergency,” Weinhold said.
Before the district canceled classes, Union parents were invited to the schools during the eclipse so they could experience it with their children. One parent on Facebook said it was a “smart” decision to cancel classes, but others would rather have their children at school.
In Washington, St. Clair, Meramec Valley and Union school districts, teachers will be explaining how the moon and the sun are reacting in the days leading up to the eclipse, in lieu of actual class the day of.
Many schools will be sending students home with eclipse glasses, as well as with instructions on how to use the protective glasses.
But not all schools are shutting their doors. St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, St. Francis Borgia Grade School, Our Lady of Lourdes Grade School, Immanuel Lutheran Grade School, New Haven School District and Gasconade County R-I School District all plan to be open the day of the eclipse.
Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton said one challenge of holding class the day of the eclipse is transporting students home.
“There will be kids walking home and drivers not paying attention and looking at the sun,” Pelton said.
Pelton added that parents could potentially have a longer commute and may not get home at their regular times. That can be an issue with young students, he said.
“The bus drivers can’t drop them off with nobody home,” he said. “Erring on the side of caution is the way to go.”
Here is a list of districts and schools that will be closed:
• Washington School District.
• Union R-XI School District.
• St. Clair R-XII School District.
• Lonedell R-XIV School District.
• Sullivan School District.
• Meramec Valley R-III School District.
• Immaculate Conception Grade School.
• St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus Grade School.
• St. Clare Catholic Grade School.
• St. Bridget of Kildare Grade School.
• St. Gertrude Grade School.
• Spring Bluff Elementary
Schools that will remain open include:
• St. Francis Borgia Regional High School.
• Our Lady of Lourdes Grade School.
• Immanuel Lutheran Grade School.
• • St. Francis Borgia Grade School.
• St. Vincent de Paul Grade School.
• St. Ignatius of Loyola Grade School.
• New Haven School District.
• Franklin County R-II School District.