County Schools Urged To Close Day Of Eclipse

The period of total coverage during the solar eclipse is seen near Hopkinsville, Ky. Aug. 21, 2017. On April 8, 2024, the moon will cast its shadow across a stretch of the U.S., Mexico and Canada, plunging millions of people into midday darkness, including Western New York. AP photo

So far, of the 18 school districts in Chautauqua County, eight schools have decided to cancel classes for April 8, the day of the total eclipse in Western New York.

The head of the county’s emergency services would like it be all 18 school districts.

Using calendars posted on school websites, Cassadaga Valley, Falconer, Forestville, Frewsburg, Panama and Ripley will all be completely closed. Chautauqua Lake has scheduled that day for Superintendent’s Conference Day and Fredonia has scheduled it be a staff development day.

Clymer has scheduled a half day on April 8.

Schools in Chautauqua County that are currently scheduled to meet that day in its entirety include Bemus Point, Brocton, Dunkirk, Jamestown, Pine Valley, Sherman, Silver Creek, Southwestern and Westfield.

In neighboring Cattaraugus County, both Randolph and Gowanda are scheduled to have school on Monday, April 8.

Estimates for attendance in Chautauqua County have been all over the map. Reports are that between 50,000 to 1 million will be either in or drive through the county that weekend through Monday.

The county’s Visitor’s Bureau has reported some hotels have already sold out for those three days.

Emergency Services Director Noel Guttman believes schools should treat this day like they would a snow day, knowing well in advance there could be problems. “One thing we know with the eclipse is traffic is going to be probably on a scale that we haven’t seen before for a single day event,” he said.

Because of the amount of traffic, Guttman wants to do what he can to eliminate vehicles, including school buses and employees, from being on the road.

The total eclipse is scheduled to begin in Ripley at 3:16 p.m. That’s right when schools will be dismissing students and they will be on buses. “As a parent I wouldn’t want my child stranded on a bus for hours,” he said.

Guttman talked to a person who was in Kentucky at the total eclipse in 2017. “It took him 11 hours to go 10 miles after the event. And that was a rural community,” he said.

Because of this, Guttman does not want to see buses or even school staff leaving their place of employment on April 8. “My mantra has been, and will continue to be, I’d rather be over-prepared and underwhelmed of an event, than overwhelmed and under-prepared,” he said.

Emergencies happen. It’s something Guttman is used to dealing with. The eclipse is a different type of emergency. “We know exactly when this is going to be here and we can plan for it. I’ve been very vocal that we need to close. The schools need to not be open that day,” he said.

Conveniently, April 8 is Monday right after spring break. Easter is Sunday, March 31 and every public school in the county is closed from April 1-5. Some schools are closed the week before, while others have a week off in February.

With April 8 the first day back, Guttman believes it’s an easy day for schools to be closed.

He also doesn’t want schools to make it an in-service day where staff are required to be in the building, or even a half-day for students. That’s because the traffic problems could easily be that entire day.

Neighboring counties are taking note as well. Guttman said he believes all Erie County, New York schools have already decided to be closed except for the city of Buffalo. He said many Erie County, Pennsylvania schools are closing that day as well.

From an educational standpoint, Guttman said he understands why teachers would want to teach the day of the eclipse, but it’s not worth it. “You teach it (eclipse) before they go out on spring break, and you have the homework assignments that report back when they come back in the day after the event,” he said.

Guttman said it’s the population density that is the concern. “The eclipse is not a threat. The eclipse is going to be a pretty cool historic and scientific event. I’m looking forward to it. … It’s the ‘threat’ towards the infrastructure that all the visitors are going to have, where the roads are going to be congested, stores need to stock up ahead of time, gas stations could be affected – those are all things that have happened at other places,” he said.

Guttman said he regularly talks to state officials about a variety of emergency topics, the eclipse being one of them. At this point, the state has not indicated it’s going to shut schools down, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it does happen, since the eclipse will impact 29 of the 62 counties in the state. “Realistically, I find it hard to believe the governor won’t declare a state of emergency ahead of time because of the affect it’s going to have,” he said.

The next total eclipse won’t happen in Chautauqua County for another 120 years, so it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime event.


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