Area schools set eclipse plans in place

LIMA —With the upcoming total solar eclipse, set to pass over Auglaize, Allen and Putnam Counties on Monday, April 8, comes a lot of excitement.

But it also comes with increased traffic and tourism, complicating business as usual and forcing schools in the area to close or cancel classes for the day.

“We won’t be in session April 8, students or staff,” Lima Schools supertintendent Jill Ackerman said. “We initially decided that it would be a staff in-service day, but as it got closer we paid attention to things that we saw from the EMA and the Astronomical Association about the potential in the community for large crowds and lots of people so we don’t want to have training that would go until 1:30. We don’t want to put our staff, some of whom travel from out of town, in a position where they might struggle trying to exit the buildings and getting stuck in traffic.”

Director of the Putnam County EMA Brian Hilvers said that he has been recommending schools close the day of the eclipse, have a remote learning day or use it as a teacher in-service.

“The buses will be on the road after 3 p.m. when the eclipse is supposed to start,” he said. “That will be a major concern for us here.”

Ottawa-Glandorf Schools superintendent Don Horstman was one of the superintendents in the county who followed Hilvers’ advice and said that 20,000 visitors in the county would present untenable problems for having a full session of school and that his district is not alone.

“All of the school superintendents in Putnam County have worked together with Hilvers and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department to develop plans for the eclipse,” he said. “Based on his recommendation, we are not having school April 8 due to the large number of visitors he expects to be in the county. I believe most of the county schools are bringing in staff for professional development sessions, but staff will be dismissed early to avoid the anticipated heaviest traffic times.”

Allen County districts joining Lima Schools in closing April 8 with a calamity day include Spencerville, Elida, Bath, Allen East and Bluffton schools, with each citing the large numbers of visitors that could arrive to the region to see the once-in-a-lifetime celestial event in person.

“Making the decision to close was easy after hearing of the potential influx of visitors and the potentially significant traffic issues,” Spencerville superintendent Brian Woods said. “We have the ability to host our professional development remotely, so there was no reason to bring in our staff.”

Bath superintendent Mike Estes said that the district had been discussing the event since October and that the Allen County schools briefly thought about keeping students in schools through the event or dismissing early, but that it was important to listen to first responders.

“With as many people as they believe will come to town, there may be some carryover into Tuesday,” he said. “And if we go into Tuesday, then it will be another calamity day, but this time with remote learning. But we won’t know that until Monday evening or Tuesday morning.”

The Lima News has previously reported that 100,000 to 200,000 people could come to Allen County during the eclipse, which will be seen in totality throughout the day in a path that stretches across Mexico and the middle United States up to Maine and southeastern Canada.

Allen East superintendent Mel Rentschler cited potential communications problems complicating matters and the advice of Allen County EMA Director Tom Berger in his comments.

“We were told cell phones might not work because of the heavy volume in the area on the towers and we were also worried about our CB radios not working on the buses,” he said. “With the expected number of visitors to the area, there could be problems with increased accidents and medical emergencies. As a school, we felt it best not to have students on campus on April 8.”

Woods echoed the concerns about cell phone outages and advised students and parents to be prepared for the event.

“It’s hard to fathom the influx of people they say are going to come, but be prepared,” he said. “Make sure to have everything you need at home on that day — plenty of food and medicine, gasoline and personal emergency plans.”

The total solar eclipse is set to pass over Ohio counties from the southwest to northeast parts of the state between 3:05 and 3:20 p.m. Monday, April 8.

Reach Jacob Espinosa at 567-242-0399.