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Kenda Dearing has ordered 1,000 pairs of NASA-approved, International Organization for Standardization-compliant eclipse glasses for every student and staff member in the Searcy County School District ahead of Monday's solar eclipse.

"I'm making sure that every staff member, down to the cafeteria people -- I mean everybody needs a pair of glasses, because nobody should miss this," said Dearing, who works as the district's K-12 science facilitator.

"And yes," she assured, "they're legit."

Dearing made sure she wasn't falling into the same bad luck others have had in purchasing glasses falsely advertised as eclipse-safe. Such bad luck befell the Little Rock School District, which purchased 20,000 pairs of glasses for all of its students last week.

But on Friday afternoon, the school district was notified by the vendor, Little Rock-based Choice Promotions, that the glasses the district had purchased could not be verified as safe. The district was given a refund and was forced to scuttle its viewing plans, a spokesman said. Instead, students will stay inside to watch a live stream of the eclipse.

Garland County Library in Hot Springs ran into the same bad luck when it unwittingly ordered and distributed 250 pairs of unsafe glasses.

"Last Sunday, I'm sitting at home and there's an email from Amazon saying they can't verify that these [are safe to use]," library Director John Wells said. "So we thought up every media outlet we could hit. We're trying to get the message out."

School districts around the state spent their first week of the school year weighing whether to allow bespectacled students to witness the eclipse firsthand or stream the unfolding celestial event in their classrooms.

For Searcy County schools, last week was "eclipse week," Dearing said, where science classes incorporated the event into their lessons and elementary students were ushered outside and taught how to use the protective glasses ahead of Monday.

Similarly, Jonesboro schools couldn't pass up on the teachable moment to educate students about syzygy, or the near-perfect alignment of the sun, moon and earth.

"We also know there are serious concerns about the safety of our students when viewing an eclipse. We have taken every precaution to ensure the safety of our students," the Jonesboro School District wrote in a memo.

As in Searcy County, parental permission will be required for students in the Jonesboro School District to go outside and view the eclipse. Any student without permission will be watching a live stream in the classroom, as will the district's kindergartners and pre-K classes.

Students at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs will undertake projects to measure surface temperature fluctuations and observe changes to wildlife behavior during the eclipse. They also will photograph the event for the Eclipse Megamovie Project, which aims to help scientists measure the sun more precisely.

The school also will be sending 19 students and two instructors to the Missouri Mines State Park to witness the totality of the eclipse and take a geology tour of a national park, a spokesman said.

Several other school districts are playing it safe by strictly keeping students indoors during the three-hour window when the phenomenon will be partially viewable in Arkansas.

NASA, the American Astronomical Society and others are urging eclipse watchers to stick with reputable makers of sun-gazing devices, and the society's solar eclipse task force has put out a list of approved manufacturers, according to The Associated Press.

Bryan Russell, superintendent of Valley View Public Schools in Jonesboro, said that with so many reports of counterfeit glasses going around, the school district balked at taking on the liability.

"We just felt it very necessary not to do that, but we're not going to miss the experience," Russell said. "We've checked our bandwidth, tested it and made sure that there's a forum where each child will be able to stream it."

"To the parents I spoke with, I equate it to the Super Bowl," Russell explained. "There's nothing like being in that environment, but the best seat in the house is your living room because you can see the whole ball game."

Russell said one high school science teacher had spent hundreds of dollars on eclipse glasses for all the students well ahead of time but was left to foot the bill himself after the school district decided on the prohibition. Luckily, the teacher was able to recoup all his money from parents who purchased his stock.

The West Memphis School District sent a letter to parents Thursday, advising that "after lengthy counsel, the West Memphis School District has decided to refrain from any structured viewing activities surrounding the Solar Eclipse" and that students will instead watch over NASA's live stream.

The North Little Rock School District said that while all grade levels focused on eclipse-related activities last week, concerns over glasses recalls gave school officials pause.

"We're still participating, we're just going to participate in our classrooms and will be watching it through the live stream," said Julie Drake, the district's parent involvement facilitator.

Metro on 08/20/2017

Print Headline: Glasses' efficacy worries schools

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