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SoCal schools watched the eclipse — both indoors and outdoors

Proper eye protection is a must for anyone looking up at a solar eclipse. Eclipse glasses are far darker than regular sunglasses.
Joseph Okpako/Getty Images
Proper eye protection is a must for anyone looking up at a solar eclipse. Eclipse glasses are far darker than regular sunglasses.

Here's how psyched principal Joseph Martinez was for Monday's nationwide celestial event: his back-to-school message to Carpenter Community Charter School was to "make this school year eclipse all the others."

"We were so excited," Martinez said. His staff prepared to throw a school-wide viewing party outdoors. They spent "a couple hundred bucks" on 1,200 pairs of solar viewing glasses — more than enough for every student and teacher on campus.

Then, a few days ago, one of the glasses' manufacturers told Martinez that the company could not guarantee that students wouldn't suffer injury to their eyes while watching Monday's partial eclipse using their glasses.

Perhaps the message was just standard-issue legal hedging, but a wary Martinez decided to cancel the outdoor viewing event anyway.

Instead, Carpenter's 1,000 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade assembled in the auditorium Monday to watch a demonstration by a science teacher and live-streamed video of the eclipse on a big screen.

"We're not going to take a risk," Martinez said before the eclipse, "of any child wearing some glasses that might not protect their eyes."

Los Angeles Unified School District campuses have been ramping up for outdoor viewing events on Monday — with NASA-approved solar glasses. Some students were planning to gather data on ambient temperature and light levels.

But at L.A. Unified campuses not holding these formal eclipse events, district officials recommended school staff hold students inside between 9 a.m. and noon, according to a letter sent Thursday to school principals.

As one district school's website put it, it would operate on a "modified shelter-in-place" basis Monday morning.

At campuses holding formal outdoor watch-parties, students needed to turn in parent-signed waivers to attend, the letter said.

"It's primarily a mechanism to let parents know that this is happening," said L.A. Unified general counsel David Holmquist. "And we need them to be informed that their students either can or cannot participate in the events."

"The students' safety remains number one," Holmquist added.

But there were also educators making the calculation that a faulty pair of glasses isn't the only risk to a students' safety.

Aside from Martinez's concerns with the glasses he ordered, he didn't want to risk having a child take the glasses off "to see if it really is a big deal to look at an eclipse with the naked eye."

"We all know what happens when you tell a child don't do something," he said wryly. "There's always going to be a couple of kids who are willing to test the limits."

At Leland Street Elementary School in San Pedro, the campus’s 500 students viewed Monday’s partial eclipse in shifts, with teachers bringing their classes out to the school’s recess blacktop two or three times each to observe each stage of the event.

“We have been planning for this event since July,” said Laura Caudill, the school’s principal, who credited two teachers with buying NASA-approved solar glasses early and devising plans to link in-classroom activities with their outdoor observations.

In teacher Sandy Colloca’s third grade class, students looked through their glasses at four different times of the morning, and then, on a worksheet, sketched their own renditions of the sun and recorded what they thought the eclipse resembled at that time.

“When we first came out here,” third grader Joshua Key said, “the top looked like it was fading a little bit, so I said, ‘It looks like the shape of a cookie.’”

That cookie — with a small bite out of it — started to look like the shape of a crescent moon, Key wrote.

“I actually think it’s pretty cool,” Key said, “knowing it’s my first time [seeing an eclipse] and I probably won’t be able to see it again, ever.”

“It’s a day of learning and … the kids are just having a fabulous time,” Caudill said. “Just watching their faces light up is what it’s all about.”