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Ottawa public school trustee says closing schools for solar eclipse a missed opportunity

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An Ottawa public school board trustee disagrees with the board's decision to close schools during the solar eclipse next month, saying the board is looking to avoid potential litigation while missing an educational opportunity for students.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is closing schools on April 8 out of an abundance of caution for the rare solar eclipse.

The celestial event that will cover the sun in Ottawa and across eastern Canada is set for April 8, between 2 p.m. and 4:45 p.m., when students will be leaving school for the day.

However, OCDSB Trustee Lyra Evans says the decision was made by senior staff, not the board.

"Instead of allowing students to come into the school, to learn as they usually would, to go to the regular classes – they're keeping everyone at home. That is not a learning day," Evans said on Monday.

In an interview on Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa at Work with Patricia Boal, Evans says the board is passing the responsibility.

"There are a lot of people who work between 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock on a regular school day and who will not be at home to watch their kids," Evans said.

"So instead of having them at school and right before dismissal we'll say, 'Remember, the eclipse is coming; don't look at it, it's dangerous.' We're saying we are not going to be watching you at all that day and just hoping that they aren't going to look at the sun."

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said last week that while he is in favour of school boards altering their PD days due to the rare event, he is “not comfortable” with decisions to close the schools themselves.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board, Ottawa's French-language boards and other boards across eastern Ontario have moved the scheduled April PA Day from April 26 to April 8. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board doesn't have a PA Day in April, so board staff decided to close schools.

Evans says the OCDSB should keep schools open on April 8 and have a regular school day.

"Just before dismissal, have all of the teachers explain to the students that the solar eclipse is coming, here's a safe way to look at it," Evans said. "Say, 'It's going to be a dangerous. You can't look directly at it.' But here's a fun, interesting way to view it.

"Sending kids home for the day is an entire missed day of learning."

Evans says the decision to close schools was made out of fear of litigation.

"There were concerns that if a child looked at the sun just after the school dismissed them, we would be potentially liable for any injuries," Evans said. "But we have cancelled the day and now if a child does end up looking at the sun in that timeslot, their eyes are just as damaged but we can't be sued. I don't think that's the right mentality to take."

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is hosting an event to mark the solar eclipse on April 8.

The Fort Henry National Historic Site will be hosting a viewing party on April 8, while the St. Lawrence Parks Commission (SLPC) will be hosting a celestial event viewing party at its properties along the St. Lawrence, including Crystler's Farm and Battlefield Park.

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