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Many schools offering excused absences to watch solar eclipse

Posted at 9:20 PM, Aug 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-21 06:04:51-04

Everyone is buzzing about a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity happening next week.

On Monday, a total solar eclipse will pass over the entire United States for the first time since June 8, 1918. Millions across the country are preparing for the experience, along with thousands here in South Florida.

RELATED: More Eclipse coverage

Kids out of school

While public schools across South Florida are operating on normal schedules, they are allowing excused absences for students to enjoy the show.

"I'm excited because it hasn't happened in so long and I get to be one of the people who gets to see it," said Zoe Lefkowitz, a Palm Beach Gardens four grade student. "Even though I really like my teachers this year, I'm just glad to get out of school."

Her mother, Michelle, posted on Facebook and connected with dozens of other people in the area to launch a watch party. They'll be hosting the party at a space in Juno Beach.

"Who wants to sit there and watch it alone? We're going to put up some tents, bring some food drinks, pull the kids out of school and have a party," she said. "To be able to go view something like this is pretty amazing."

Michelle said what makes this solar eclipse unique is the fact that it's happening in 2017.

"In ancient civilizations they used to have huge parties and they plan for them for months at a time leading up to an eclipse and now, I kind of threw it out there on Facebook and asked who would be interested," she said. "To me, it amazes me how the social media coverage of this allows us all to come together easier."

Palm Beach County Schools are allowing excused absences for students. Several private and catholic schools will be closed. PBCS even created a special section on their website dedicated to the eclipse, which you can see by clicking here.

For Martin County Schools, absences will also be excused. Teachers are being provided curriculum with virtual viewing only and solar eclipse glasses or pinhole cameras are not allowed.

St. Lucie County Schools, Indian River County Schools and Okeechobee County Schools are also providing excused absences.

"I was taking them out before I even knew it was an excused absence," Michelle jokes. "For me, a once in a lifetime experience viewing the eclipse is so much more important than anything they would learn in school. 20 years from now, it will be, 'remember how we had the solar eclipse party?' And we will."

Teaching opportunities

For the kids who stay in class, area schools like Poinciana STEM Elementary School in Boynton Beach -- the only elementary school in the district with a planetarium, will be working the eclipse into their curriculum.

"Gosh, it's going to happen once in a life time for them," said Alicia Foy, an astronomy teacher at Poinciana STEM. "We'll be taking them out sporadically, with their glasses and supervision from the teachers. We're going to learn so much, it's going to be so incredible."

Of course, students will need a permission slip from their parents in order to take part in school activities involving the eclipse.

"This particular event is going to explain so much of where we are in our position in space, compared to the time, especially with the moon and sun. It's going be a perfect focus for our lessons," said Foy. "It will explain the moon phases, too, which is a very difficult concept so if they can see something like this understand that's a new moon up there that's covering the sun, it's going to make it so much more real for them."

In South Florida, it's just a partial eclipse, but around 80 percent of the sun will still be blocked. The event will start just before 1:30 p.m. local time and reach it's peak around 2:58 p.m.

"It's not even going to get really dark down here because of our senses. We are going to sense it like dusk and dawn," said Foy.

But for those watching in a total eclipse zone, Foy said the experience will be very different.

"You're going to see stars, you're going to see crickets. You're going to experience all of that. But we won't get that down here, which I'll be relaying to all the students," she said.

Safety first

If you're planning on viewing the eclipse, don't risk your eyesight.

"The precious gift of eyesight is a lifelong privilege that must be protected," said optician Russ Griffin of Finer Optics in West Palm Beach.

Griffin stresses that you can't use regular sunglasses to view the eclipse. Even with certified solar glasses, limit how long you look directly at the sun.

"Classic glasses, regardless of cost, will not filter the damaging rays of the sun," he said. "A good pair of sunglasses will allow about 10-20 percent of the daylight through, whereas approved solar glasses are typically 100,000 times darker."

Several fake glasses like these are circulating the internet. Amazon sent an email to thousands of customers issuing refunds and urging people not to use it.

"When you go to the dollar store or buying knock offs online, I think you're taking a big risk," said Griffin.

Safe glasses need to be approved by American Astronomical Society. There should also be an ISO logo by the International Organization for Standardization on the glasses and directions on how to use them properly.

"There are few companies that produce solar sunglasses with the proper filters. Approved sunglasses will allow no more than .00032 of the sun's light to pass through the filters," said Griffin.

For those without glasses, he also showed us how to make pinhole projectors.

"All I did was punch a hole in it with an ink pen -- and you can see the sun's rays come through that pin hole," he said, holding up a piece of cardboard paper to a box tray.

Using the pinhole method allows the viewer to watch the eclipse through project light, with their back facing toward the sun. Griffin said another tool is using a funnel tool, which you can find in your kitchen.

"This is just a classic funnel every body has one of these. But watch how good this works," he said, holding it up to the box. "So now you see the entire sun, you'll see the eclipse. There will be no damage to the eye."

If you're not careful, Griffin said the real risk is losing your eyesight by solar retinopathy.

"It is permanent and irreparable. Once you burn the fovia, it is similar to a powerful laser strike. You will never have vision in that zone again," he said. "It's very important, make sure your kids understand the damage they could sustain if they look at the sun, it's an absolute no-no."

Click here to learn more safety tips from NASA.

Where do I find glasses?

Solar eclipse glasses are selling out fast online and in stores. Local libraries were handing them out for free this week by the thousands but quickly ran out within hours.

Star-Net affiliated libraries, which include several local libraries, do have glasses on hand for their own viewing parties. Click here to look at a map of associated libraries.

You can also check the following retailers:

  • Walmart
  • Best Buy
  • Kirklands
  • Lowe’s
  • Pilot/Flying J
  • Toys “R” Us
  • 7-Eleven

NASA is also giving away free glasses at its events across the country, although no events are planned anywhere in the state of Florida. If you plan to travel outside of the state to view the eclipse, you can use this map to find an event near you.

The next solar eclipse to cross the entirety of the United States will take place on April 8, 2024.