The St. Clair R-VIII School Board unanimously approved to close school the day of the solar eclipse Monday, Aug. 21.
Although it would be a good educational opportunity for students, Superintendent Kyle Kruse mentioned some concerns due to the expected amount of people driving in town that day.
“My main concern would be finding some way to establish our perimeter and hold the perimeter on all our campuses because there may be people all over town trying to get to open areas to see the eclipse,” Kruse said.
If school were to be in session, four police officers would be stationed at each school, however, Kruse said that may not be enough to provide sufficient security.
“We’ve not found a good solution for personnel who can establish and hold our perimeters in case folks are wanting to walk through (the campuses),” Kruse said.
If students were to go to school that day, Kruse said he does not think students would be in imminent danger.
“Another concern that’s become more highlighted as the crowd seems to be growing is that the traffic is going to be a major issue,” Kruse said.
“It’s becoming apparent that parking throughout the city maybe an issue. We have relatively narrow streets and (police) Chief (Bill Hammack) tells me that most of our streets are not regulated parking on either side, so it’s going to get really tight in the middle.”
“Getting kids to school is probably easier than getting kids home from school because the eclipse does essentially wind up not long before school gets out. If you’ve ever been to a concert at the amphitheater in St. Louis, you know what it’s like trying to leave the parking lot, and this is probably be a similar situation.”
Other board members were in agreement with Kruse’s concerns. Board member Steve Pelton said canceling school is a catch 22.
“One, it’s nice to have the school kids here, they’re going to have glasses, it’s an educational thing, you know, they’re in a safe environment versus all over town,” Pelton said.
On the other hand, he said it is concerning as to how students will get home at the end of the day right after the eclipse happens.
Board member Craig Licklider agreed that student safety is a top priority.
“If you’ve got that many people in a small area, you could have an issue. I hate for it to surround the school when we already see all the different things going in the country around schools,” Licklider said.
“The students’ safety is No. 1.”
Kruse said some parents have stated that they would rather have their kids at home on the day of the eclipse than at school.
Materials for the eclipse such as safety glasses and instructions would be given to students on the Friday before, according to Kruse.
Canceling school Aug. 21 will not affect the rest of the school calendar.
An automated phone call announcing the cancellation of school Aug. 21 was made Friday around 9 a.m. from Kruse.
“On Aug. 21, the St. Clair area will experience a full solar eclipse. This event is expected to bring several thousand visitors to the area, and is likely to cause issues with traffic, parking, and the response time for emergency services.
“School bus services would be affected, and school campuses could experience high levels of visitor traffic. Due to these circumstances, the St. Clair R-XIII School Board has voted to cancel school on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Thank you for your understanding.”
The Department of Homeland Security predicts that the St. Clair population will triple in size during the week of Aug. 18-21 for the viewing of the eclipse.
That’s according to Police Chief Bill Hammack who noted that several events are scheduled to take place that same weekend, adding that plans have been put into place to try to accommodate that size of growth.
“This has been publicized nationwide that St. Clair is the epicenter for the longest period or the longest duration of the eclipse.
“The Chamber of Commerce, and the city, along with the police department, we’ve received a lot of phone calls from people who are coming to this area just to view (the eclipse).”
Hammack said the department’s calls for service will increase due to the added population. All 14 officers will be working 12-hour shifts during that weekend providing security details and circulating through the city.
For any issues that may arise on state-owned roads including Interstate 44, Highway 47 and Highway 30, the police department will be relying on the Missouri State Highway Patrol, according to Hammack.
Hammack said he is not certain that St. Clair’s population will actually triple that weekend, but the police, fire and emergency services are preparing for it.
He said with the amount of people expected, there could be delays in responding to nonemergency calls for service.
A couple of tips for residents to prepare for the eclipse weekend Hammack said include buying groceries and filling up on gas ahead of time, as well as to expect increased traffic.
Fire Capt. Dan Cooley said all hands will be on deck for the fire department as well.
Emergency management plans will be in place to ensure crews and trucks can get to emergency situations through the crowds and traffic, according to Cooley.
The department will have assistance from an incoming strike team. It will consist of a pumper task force of five pumpers and 15 personnel.
Having hot weather during that week, he said there is an increased chance for brush fires and camp fires not being put out properly.
For the duration of the eclipse, he said there is a concern of main highways being gridlocked. Since it will be difficult getting around, he advises people to take time getting to places.
“Don’t get in a hurry because you’re not going to get anywhere fast,” Cooley said.
Additionally, there will be a large amount of floaters on this side of the river. Cooley advises boaters to watch out for canoes and kayakers, and to share the waters.