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Many Northeast Ohio schools will close for the eclipse. Are they missing an opportunity to teach?

Many - but not all - Northeast Ohio schools are closing for the eclipse, citing issues with traffic and other problems caused by a large number of visitors to the region.
Many Northeast Ohio schools are closing for the eclipse, citing issues with traffic and other problems caused by the expected number of visitors.

The majority of schools across Northeast Ohio are closing to avoid traffic and other issues expected when thousands of visitors flock to the region to witness the total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8.

School districts from Akron to Cleveland to Wooster have said they’re closing for good reason. The total eclipse — roughly four minutes of total darkness — will reach its peak around 3:15 p.m., right around the time many schools are dismissing students. The districts say Northeast Ohio will be flooded with visitors, presenting traffic problems for busses and potentially overloaded cellphone towers causing worries about phone and internet service.

Some schools, like Cuyahoga Heights and Youngstown, will dismiss students early. Others, including Woodridge Local Schools, will offer remote-only learning that day.

The information in the map above was gathered by Ideastream Public Media in March 2024; please check with your local school for more details and any updates.

But while many say that's understandable considering the possible upheaval, some educators wonder whether schools risk disrupting carefully designed lesson plans and could miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity.

“Teachers have to scrap the day's lesson plans and configure how to make up for the lost time – curricularly,” said Denise Davis, director of the teacher education program at Case Western Reserve University, via email in late March. “Depending on the day, it's more problematic for some than others. The same happens with snow days, etc.”

Ideally, schools would be supervising students’ experiences with the eclipse, Davis wrote.

"I actually was working today with a K-2 teacher at The Intergenerational Schools who is developing a unit that involves energy and the impact of energy on our lives," she said. "She is creating an exercise for her students regarding the eclipse that will be carried out after school (during the eclipse)."

The timing of the eclipse makes it difficult for schools to stay open, she said. But it shouldn't prevent schools from creating lessons about the eclipse in the days leading up to the event, considering the solar system is identified as a topic in Ohio's learning standards for grades 3, 4, 5, 7, and high school.

"It's certainly ideal for the school to create learning opportunities that exist around this event - prior, during and after it occurs,” Davis wrote.

Victory Christian School, a private religious school in Niles, Ohio, is not closing for the eclipse. Instead, they’re hosting a viewing event for families and students in the parking lot right after school and providing food and eclipse glasses.

The event will reinforce lessons the students have been learning about the solar system and the eclipse in recent weeks, said the school's Principal Michelle Fontes.

“It'll give the kids another chance to practice what they've learned,” she explained. “So now they're teaching mom and dad or grandma and grandpa.”

Many other schools are also using the opportunity to build the eclipse into lessons before the event, said Annette Kratcoski, director of the Research Center for Educational Technology at Kent State.

"Our teachers have been scaffolding in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] learning, preparing students for April 8th so that they truly understand what's happening, from all levels, all areas of the curriculum," she said. "They're studying about it in science. They're learning to write about it. They're learning to express about it in art."

She’s part of a team that received a grant to study the eclipse as “citizen scientists,” with a team made up of teacher education students at Kent. As part of that project, they met with a group of researchers who had worked on a similar project with the 2017 eclipse. She said their experience backs up the decision to close for schools that are in the path of the totality.

“It’s not just a matter of being stuck in traffic,” she said. “People were stuck for hours [in 2017]. So, if we're looking at the eclipse occurring around school dismissal, you're looking at children on busses. Children not being able to get home, staff not being able to get home. It's problematic if there was any kind of accident, even for the first responders.”

At the same time, Kratcoski said there are many opportunities for education around the eclipse outside of school. The Great Lakes Science Center, the Cleveland Museum of Art and local libraries and parks throughout the region will be hosting events, she noted.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.