Local school boards to adjust April 2024 PA Day to align with solar eclipse

The 2017 solar eclipse as seen from Cerulean, Kentucky, USA. Photo by Jongsun Lee.

As the moon passes between the sun and the Earth next year, area students will not be in school, providing the province approves the request of three local school boards.

On Monday, Apr. 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will occur, with the field of totality (the area on Earth that will be cast into darkness as a result, and also the best area for viewing the eclipse with proper precautions) stretching from Sinaloa, Mexico, through the USA and all the way to Newfoundland, according to Astronomy Magazine. The Kingston region sits in the field of totality expected during the eclipse.

Three local school boards – the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB), the Limestone District School Board (LDSB), and the Hastings-Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) – all align in planning their school year schedules, as all three use Tri-Board Transportation services for the busing of students to and from school. That means that when students have a Professional Activity (PA) Day in one board, students in the other two boards also have a PA Day on the same date. For April 2024, the three boards had scheduled a PA Day for Friday, Apr. 12, however, the boards are now attempting to reschedule that PA Day to align with the solar eclipse on Monday, Apr. 8, 2023. This decision, according to communications from the ALCDSB to their students and families, is based on the fact that the area will be in virtual darkness for approximately two hours in the afternoon during the eclipse, and the fact that looking at a solar eclipse – even momentarily – can cause permanent vision damage.

“The duration of the eclipse will be approximately between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. As a regular school day, this will present several challenges to staff and students in our schools with respect to transportation and safety,” ALCDSB Director of Education David DeSantis said in a communication to board students and their families on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

“After consultation with our co-terminus school boards and Tri-Board Transportation Services, ALCDSB will be moving the April PA Day from Friday, April 12, 2024, to Monday, April 8, 2024. This change will ensure that all students are at home during this time which avoids the probability of walking or taking the bus home while the solar eclipse is taking place.”

The switch to the April 8 PA Day is tentative at this time; while the ALCDSB Board of Trustees have passed the decision, the item doesn’t come before the LDSB Trustees until the LDSB Annual Board Meeting this week on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, and has not yet been approved by the Ministry of Education. The LDSB confirmed this in an email to Kingstonist, providing a link to the relevant report (Annual Meeting of the Board November 15 2023 AMENDED; page 43), which states that, “during a total solar eclipse, there is a significant change in natural lighting conditions. Moving the Professional Activity Day to align with the eclipse helps ensure the safety of students and staff, particularly when it comes to transportation. The sudden darkness during regular dismissal times can pose risks, such as accidents related to reduced visibility, fear for some students, and potential eye damage because many students would still be in transit on Tri-Board Transportation or preparing for dismissal.”

The report goes on to say that, while adjusting by 80 to 90 minutes at the start and end of the school day on Monday, Apr. 8, 2024, was discussed as an option, the option presented two concerns: One concern was that “given some employees, as well as bus drivers for Tri-Board, have other employment, shifting the day could result in staffing challenges,” and the other was that “families would be having to adjust and accommodate two days of disruption in the same week (April 8 eclipse day adjustment and April 12 PA Day).”

And while the LDSB Board of Trustees will vote on the matter tomorrow evening, the topic will not come before the HPEDSB until their Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, meeting. The three boards will then communicate the decision of the Ministry of Education to their families, according to documents from the ALCDSB and LDSB.

“We look forward to learning about this unique solar eclipse as a community. Information will be shared with students and staff prior to the solar eclipse,” DeSantis wrote in his communication to students and their families.

Both the ALCDSB and the LDSB indicated that the health and safety of their students and staff remain their top priority and the main factor in deciding whether to move the PA Day to align with the eclipse. Kingstonist’s partner publication, Hometownist, has reached out to the HPEDSB for further information and comment, but no response was received by time of publication. Kingstonist has reached out to the two French language school boards that operate locally – the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) and the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO) – to find out if those boards have similar plans for their students during the April 2024 eclipse. No response was received by time of publication.

Kingstonist will update this article if/when more information becomes available, and will provide coverage following the decisions of the LDSB and HPEDSB Boards and subsequent Ministry of Education decision.

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