Solar eclipse not a reason to close schools early, Ontario’s education minister says

Click to play video: 'DCDSB and boards across GTA move PA day amid solar eclipse concerns'
DCDSB and boards across GTA move PA day amid solar eclipse concerns
RELATED: Durham Catholic District School Board is one of several across the GTA calling for a PA day due to the upcoming solar eclipse that's expected to coincide with dismissal times. However experts say, they hope the learning opportunity isn't missed. Lexy Benedict reports. – Feb 6, 2024

Ontario’s education minister says he is “not comfortable” with school boards closing “unilaterally” amidst safety concerns during a spring solar eclipse, but has suggested he will stop short of telling trustees what to do.

Several school boards across Ontario are planning changes to their schedules on April 8, when a rare, near-total solar eclipse is set to plunge parts of the province into darkness as the sun’s light is covered by the moon.

Several school boards have moved the dates for professional development days. It means students will be off on the day of the eclipse, but back in class on a separate day to accommodate the change.

The Toronto District School Board, for example, voted to move a professional development day from April 19 to April 8 so students would not be at school on the day of the eclipse.

Story continues below advertisement

Staff at the board previously said the decision was made “out of concern for student safety and well-being, and to mitigate any operational impacts that may be caused by the eclipse.”

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

That move, where a day off for students is rearranged, is one Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said he is in favour of.

“The safety of children is most important, school boards have the prerogative to use PD days if they want,” he said at Queen’s Park on Monday, adding he was “comfortable” with the move.

Lecce said he was not in favour of school boards reducing the number of hours students are in class because of the rare event.

“What I don’t support is closing schools without giving access to children to their educators,” Lecce said.

“I am not comfortable with school boards unilaterally closing schools without an alternative for parents who have to work.”

At least one Ontario school board appears to be heading in that direction, reducing the number of hours students are in class on April 8 to avoid classes ending during the eclipse.

The York Region District School Board decided earlier in February it would end class early, with the eclipse expected between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Story continues below advertisement

The board has not said what time class will end that day, with each school set to contact parents with the specifics for their student.

“We have heard concerns regarding the potential for students being outside and inadvertently looking at the sun, which may cause serious health problems, such as loss of eyesight,” the York District School Board said.

“We have also heard concerns of traffic and students walking home during peak darkness.”

The peak of the spectacle on April 8 will last up to four minutes and 28 seconds in the path of total darkness.

Asked if he would issue a directive to school boards not following his advice over moving professional development days, Lecce did not commit.

“I’ve simply issued my expectation,” he said.

— with a file from Global News’ Saba Aziz

Sponsored content