Schools warn parents of dangers from eclipse Julie Gorham

The United States will be witnessing the first total solar eclipse in almost 100 years on Monday, but the Citrus County School District said it is sitting this one out.

In a mass phone call Wednesday night, Citrus County parents received the following message from Superintendent of Schools, Sandra “Sam” Himmel:

“This event is sure to attract a lot of attention, and we want to reach out to you with important safety information regarding viewing an eclipse,” she said. “Viewing an eclipse, even if only for a brief period, can be extremely harmful to the human eyes. Due to safety concerns, Citrus County Schools will not require students to engage in any activities that require students to view the eclipse outdoors. However, the opportunity to watch the eclipse will be made available to our students through the livestream from NASA.”

Although Citrus County is not in the path of the total eclipse, with weather permitting, the county will experience a roughly 80 percent eclipse during the school day, which led for the district to make an executive order to maintain the safety of all students.

“We take the safety of our children very seriously,” said Assistant Superintendent Mike Mullen. “We decided after discussing concerns with staff, the risk management department and our School Attorney Wes Bradshaw. We also gathered information from other districts to make the best decision.”

This event will be visible to see in the local area in the afternoon from approximately noon until 4:30 p.m., a time when school dismissal occurs with roughly 10,500 students traveling by bus.

Marilyn Farmer, the coordinator of transportation, says with about 165 buses on the road during these hours parents must inform their students of the danger of staring at the sun.

“I think the primary concern is supervision because it is a little more difficult on the bus because the driver is driving,” Farmer said. “We have told bus drivers to monitor students the best they can and to give clear instructions throughout the bus ride to not look at the eclipse, but there is potential for them miss a child looking.”

In a newsletter sent home to parents on Wednesday, the district warns the sun’s visible and invisible rays can cause severe permanent damage to sensitive tissues of the eyes. “Normally our common sense prevents us from looking at the sun for more than a second,” it reads, but during a solar eclipse, astronomical enthusiasm can overwhelm common sense, and students can wind up staring at the sun for too long.”

Sandra “Sam” Himmel advises parents to discuss these concerns with their students before school on Monday, but does recommend if parents worry about dismissal to use the “parent pick-up option.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Julie Gorham at 352-563-3236 or jgorham@chronicleonline.com.

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