In an about-face from its original plan, the Warren County Board of Education in an emergency session on Thursday voted to cancel school for the solar eclipse amid concerns teacher absenteeism could leave some students in harm’s way.
“Right now we have 23 staff members who are not coming in that day so the dynamics have changed,” said Director of Schools Bobby Cox, noting the number always climbs higher over weekend meaning a larger-than-normal number of substitutes would have to be used the day of the eclipse. “Our concerns are due to the numbers of substitutes that day.”
Cox said they have tried to keep substitutes in the loop concerning the eclipse but the large number of subs that day gave him rise for concern. He said he consulted with principals before deciding to suggest the school closure.
“My job, No. 1, is to make sure students are safe,” Cox said in recommending schools close Monday and that a bad weather day be used, leaving the number of “snow days” at nine. “I think it’s in the best interest of the students and the system.”
Cox clarified that it would be a complete shutdown of all school departments. He noted staffers would still get paid for the day.
Cox said there will be people angry both ways. “Half the people will be upset, half will be happy,” Cox said. “If you need to blame anyone, blame me.”
While the measure to cancel schools Monday passed 4-2, the two School Board members who voted against it, Tanya Bess and Linda Blair, said the schools are missing a great teaching moment.
“I’m not sold on canceling schools all day,” Blair said. “It will be a great educational opportunity.”
Bess argued that it will impose a hardship on parents who have to work and that it could jeopardize the safety of some children who will not have parental supervision.
“There are parents who will have to scramble,” Bess said of the late change of course.
Teddy Jones, who said he decided to change his vote to vote in favor of closing schools after hearing Cox’s recommendation, wondered if they could open campus for teachers who may want to have viewing parties. Cox said he would be willing to open some campuses if such plans are presented. However, Cox pointed out there is a large viewing party being held in downtown McMinnville.
As for the absenteeism that prompted the concern in the first place, Cox said the number was already slightly above the normal amount of teachers who call in for days off but that the difference this time would be having to entrust student safety on substitutes who have not been trained to supervise students in what could be a potentially dangerous viewing if special eye protection is not properly used.