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Sumner schools to close day of August eclipse

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Sumner County students and teachers will get to stay home from school on Aug. 21 in order to view a rare total solar eclipse that is expected to briefly darken the area that day.

Sumner County Director of Schools Del Phillips told School Board members Tuesday that he has met for months with Sumner County Emergency Management Agency officials and others concerning the eclipse and community events that are planned to view it.

The actual total eclipse - when the moon is directly between the sun and the earth - is expected to last less than three minutes beginning at around 1:30 p.m. Sumner County has been identified as one of the best places to view the event in the country and thousands of tourists are already making plans to visit the area.

Phillips said his staff is recommending schools close that day because of traffic concerns and to allow students and teachers to enjoy the event with their families.

"At the end of the day we want to figure out what's best to do... we know it will be a great learning experience, but every time we hear the number [of people] coming to the area, it gets higher and higher," said Phillips.

He cited traffic concerns for the school district's buses, particularly around Benny Bills Elementary and Shafer Middle Schools where viewing activities are planned. The city of Gallatin will hold a viewing party at Triple Creek Park with activities planned throughout the day.

Phillips said the school system will still use the eclipse - the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years - as a teaching tool leading up to the event.

School Board members will vote on four options for altering the school district calendar in order to accommodate the closing at its next meeting June 20.

The options board members are considering include returning to school from winter break on Jan. 2 instead of Jan. 3; using March 22 as an instructional day; using Dec. 21 as an instructional day instead of starting winter break that day; and using Aug. 21 as in-service day.

Phillips said staff is recommending the first option of returning from winter break a day earlier.

School Board Member Jim Hawkins added he's heard from more than 200 parents and teachers who have said they want schools to close so they can participate in community events planned for that day.

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