Schools in the U.S. and Canada won’t let kids enjoy the eclipse like this on April 8. (Photo by Yves Forestier/Sygma via Getty Images)

Lock Up Your Kids: The Eclipse Is Coming!

In a fit of absurd safetyism, schools are canceling class on April 8 because they’re scared pupils will look at the sun.

On Monday, April 8, hundreds of schools across North America, from Texas to Ontario, are closing in order to protect pupils from sustaining lifelong injuries—from the sun.

Just after 11 a.m. local time, a complete solar eclipse will begin over the Pacific coast of Mexico. Its “path of totality”—the areas where the sun will be entirely blotted out—will pass through 13 U.S. states, before ending off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. In these regions, schools face a dilemma: Is the eclipse a learning opportunity for kids—or a threat?

“The solar eclipse offers a rare educational occasion,” Natalie Jameson, an educator in Canada’s Prince Edward Island, admitted last month. “But prioritizing safety is crucial.” 

And so, classes in her district will end two hours early to ensure “students will be home safely” before the start of the eclipse.

The decision, her department added, was made “out of an abundance of caution.”

The same decision was made by Ontario’s Waterloo District, even though it initially opted to remain open for the eclipse, arguing the event would be an opportunity for “growth” and “learning.” But after the elementary teachers’ union criticized the decision, with its president arguing “it’s naive to assume students won’t look directly at the sun,” the school board announced it would cancel class after all.

Educators in America, meanwhile, are singing from the same hymn sheet. “You obviously cannot look at the sun when this is happening,” a rep for Perry Township Schools in Indianapolis told local news. Instead, she told me, the school district is “having an e-learning day due to safety reasons,” because it’s “the best way to experience the solar eclipse.”

She continued: “We are expecting a million or more tourists in our state, because we are in the path of totality. The eclipse will coincide with dismissal. Our concern is buses, full of children, stuck in traffic for hours.”

A superintendent in upstate New York gave similar reasons when he explained why classes in the Schoharie Central School District would be canceled on Monday: “It really is out of an abundance of caution.”

Abundance of caution. You hear this phrase a lot in our era of absurd safetyism, which is reshaping modern childhood. An abundance of caution is the reason kids no longer spend time alone or play outside, depriving them of some of life’s most fulfilling experiences.

To be clear: when you look at an eclipse, your instinct to squint may not kick in—which can damage your eyes—but cases of blindness are vanishingly rare, and there are simple precautions that can be taken.

And while some schools claimed it would be too dangerous for kids to travel home during the dark time of the eclipse, the scientists I spoke to said that’s ridiculous. When the sun is fully blocked by the moon—a phase that lasts less than five minutes—it won’t be pitch black, but feel more like dusk in the winter months, said Sarah Gallagher, a professor of physics and astronomy at Western University in Ontario.

Many of the scientists also believe the eclipse should be treated as a learning opportunity for kids. Ilana Macdonald, an astrophysicist at Ontario’s Eclipse Task Force, said the event is a way “to incite wonder and amazement about the world. And yet they’re focusing more on the negatives and the dangerous aspects of it.”

“It feels very medieval,” she added. “It’s like there’s a dragon eating the sun, and we have to run away.”

Michael Kirk, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, agrees, calling the eclipse “a once in a lifetime experience.” 

“You will tell your grandchildren about this. You will remember it for the rest of your life,” he said, noting that the next total eclipse visible in America won’t happen until 2044.

How do kids feel about spending it at home? I spoke to Lola McAdam, 13, whose Ottawa school district has opted to close on April 8 to “ensure safety” for students. Lola will be going to Zoom school instead.

“I probably would rather have been with my friends,” she told me. “It would have been cooler than being stuck at home.”

Suzanne Hancock, Lola’s mother, said she still has fond memories of the total solar eclipse in 1979, when she was 7 years old. Her school remained open, and the students made pinhole projectors together so they could safely watch the event. Suzanne wishes her daughter had a similar opportunity, telling me this could have been a communal “celebration.”

“That experience and adventure has been robbed from today’s students just like during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

And if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that being cooped up inside, in front of a screen, harms kids a lot more in the long run. 

Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids project—which promotes “a commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times”—says there are many examples of silly safetyism in schools. She notes that a high school in New Jersey was evacuated in 2021 when a student brought in an antique dinner plate, because its glaze was deemed a biohazard. And in 2012, a school in Washington didn’t allow students to apply sunscreen on a field trip because it was considered medication—and two students were badly sunburned as a result. “We have a culture that sees childhood through the lens of risk and danger,” Skenazy said.

And it’s not just schools. An eight-year-old could travel unaccompanied on Amtrak until 2011, when the minimum age was raised to 13. The reason for the change? An Amtrak spokesperson cited an “abundance of concern.”

Skenazy said she dislikes these empty words.

“An ‘abundance of caution’ turns out to be excess caution,” she said. 

And if we stop kids from taking solo train rides, or bringing old plates to school, or collectively experiencing a spectacular, celestial event, Skenazy believes we are effectively giving them something much worse:

“An abundance of distrust.”

Rupa Subramanya is a reporter for The Free Press. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @rupasubramanya. And read Julia Duin’s Free Press piece about the quest to preserve America’s night sky, "Welcome to Dark Sky Country.”

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