GAINESVILLE -- As the total solar eclipse came across North Georgia last week, the Hall County School System spend much of the day trying to educate students about the rare event and dealing with high absenteeism as many parents tried to view it with their children.
Kevin Bales, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with the school system, said the board spent weeks preparing for how to approach the event from standpoints of both safety and education.
"Right, wrong or indifferent, we probably should have started planning months ago," Bales said. "It really caught on fire right there at the time and, you know, I don't know if was social media or for whatever reason, you know everybody just all of a sudden started posing the question 'what are we doing' with this time."
Despite working on a short clock, he said they got mostly good feedback about how the school day played out.
"It was an excellent day, an excellent instructional opportunity across the spectrum of kids," Bales said.
The school board decided in the weeks before the eclipse to delay the closing of schools by two hours due to safety concerns, however school officials openly encouraged parents to either check their students out or leave them at home for an excused abscense.
Bales said many parents heeded that advice.
"We were at roughly two-thirds attendance, and so we missed a third of our students on attendance, which we were perfectly fine with," Bales said. "I would say another 25 to 30 percent checked out that day, later in the day as it got close to that 2:36 time frame (when the eclipse peaked in the region)."
He added that those rates were noticeably higher for the county's elementary schools. High school students in the county were allowed, at the discretion of their teachers and staffs, to go outside to view the eclipse with supervision and proper eye protection, while elementary students were kept inside and watched live video of the event. One group of high schoolers was able to take a field trip to South Carolina to view the eclipse's totality.
Bales said safety, ultimately, was what concerned school officials the most, and fortunately, they did not hear of any issues to that end.
"I held my breath for the whole next day, I'll be honest," Bales said. "I kind of expected at some point we might have someone that said their glasses had failed or they felt like they had recalled glasses and did not know it, but we did not field a call in the teaching and learning department."
The school system spent much of the week before the eclipse and the day of teaching courses on the science of the eclipse, which Bales also said received mostly positive feedback from the schools.