Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 on Friday posted a notice about the cancellation on its website. Attributed to district Superintendent Lori Haukeness, the notice stated that students or parents with cultural beliefs surrounding the eclipse may be excused from class with notice to their school’s secretary from a parent or guardian.
“The decision came about when, as a district we really looked at the effects that could happen to students’ eyes if they did not have the correct glasses on while viewing the eclipse,” Haukeness told The Journal. “All it takes is one student taking those glasses off.”
Schools will offer safer alternatives through virtual livestream viewing of the eclipse from inside the school. Students who stay at school will not be allowed to go outside the buildings between 10 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. for recess, lunch or to view the eclipse.
The district said it learned about disruptions in religious or cultural beliefs after receiving information from high school teacher Emelia Jo Chandler.
“If cultural beliefs hinder the student from eating lunch during the normal school lunch hour, parents may send a sack lunch with their student,” Haukeness said. “A time to eat their sack lunch will be provided at the conclusion of the solar eclipse.”
“I respect the cultural traditions of our families and the safety concerns of parents,” Haukeness said. “We have two Native American staffers who educated us.”
About five teachers at Cortez Middle School teamed up earlier this year to start a partnership with the National Space Science and Technology Institute and the Mobile Earth and Space Observatory, which offer special educational programs for schools throughout Colorado. Through that partnership, they were able to get about 300 solar viewers for free from Rainbow Symphony, one of the Astronomical Society’s recommended vendors. They also received a sun gazer telescope, which they had planned to use during special eclipse-themed lessons on Monday.
Eighth-grade science teacher Brittany Lang, who helped acquire the viewers and plan the eclipse-themed events, said she was disappointed by the district’s decision.
The schools’ safety glasses will be available at the Cortez Public Library beginning Friday afternoon. Library Director Eric Ikenouye said he planned to pick up the viewers Friday afternoon and start distributing them right away. He said library visitors will be limited to one solar viewer per person, and the library recommends a $1 donation each. He said many visitors have already expressed interest in the glasses, and he expects them to be snapped up quickly. The library is at 202 N. Park St.
“They’re a very hot commodity,” he said. “This week, we’ve had probably three to seven phone calls per hour asking if we have any.”
Dolores Elementary School plans to let students view the solar eclipse for five to 10 minutes during its darkest period, principal Gary Livick said. He said the school has about 150 NASA-certified solar viewers for students, and two teachers per class will be on hand to supervise the students. After the eclipse, students will have an indoor recess for the rest of the morning.
“It’ll be a pretty cool experience,” Livick said.
Brian Hanson, superintendent of the Mancos School District, said Friday morning that he wasn’t sure what the schools’ plans were for the eclipse.
Solar eclipse glasses are considered safe if they meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard, according to the American Astronomical Society website. Solar viewers cannot be sold legally until they’ve been certified. They also block harmful solar radiation.
Viewers can test viewers in normal indoor lighting conditions. Nothing should be visible through the lenses of a solar viewer except the sun or a similarly bright light source.
“If you can see shaded lamps or other common household light fixtures (not bare bulbs) through your eclipse glasses or hand-held viewer, and you’re not sure the product came from a reputable vendor, it’s no good,” the Astronomical Society said.
The Astronomical Society has published a list of reputable solar viewer vendors, as well as retail chains that sell them, including Walmart and Lowe’s.
The Montezuma-Cortez district was not alone in changing its plans for Monday.
Page Unified School District in Arizona changed its class schedule. Its student population is about 75 percent Native American.
According to traditional Native beliefs, viewing the eclipse could cause health and spiritual problems. Navajos warn against eating, sleeping or being out in the sun while a solar eclipse is happening.
“You’re not supposed to be out in the sun because nature does change, the atmosphere, the lighting, everything changes,” Carlos Begay, a Navajo culture and language teacher at Page High School, told KPNX news in Phoenix. “If you were to eat during an eclipse, it does cause eating disorders and even other things along the lines of disease. If you were to sleep during an eclipse, that’s where sleeping deprivation comes from, eye problems come from, that’s where blindness comes from, the list goes on.”