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Many Montreal schools are undecided on closing for the solar eclipse. Here's what parents should know

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On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible in Montreal for the first time since 1932.

The rare event, while spectacular, comes with a few risks. That's why some schools across North America are closing for the day.

"One of the problems is that you're dealing with an awful lot of light pouring into a very, very small part of the back of the eye," explained Ralph Chou, a professor at the University of Waterloo and a leading expert in solar eclipses and eye health.

"The second thing is that there are no pain sensors at that location, so you can do a lot of damage to the back of the eye without knowing it."

Faced with these hazards, it's not entirely clear how schools in Montreal and surrounding areas will proceed.

As of Friday, only one school service centre reached by CTV News was certain it would close its doors on April 8: the Centre de Services scolaire (CSS) des Sommets in the Eastern Townships.

A spokesperson explained that the eclipse will occur at the end of the school day when many students are headed home.

"Constant supervision must be offered to young people and those who are not autonomous to ensure they respect safety conditions. In school transportation, we are unable to apply this instruction," the CSS des Sommet said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the only schools set on staying open are with the CSS de Montréal.

"At the CSSDM, we'll be focusing on activities to raise awareness of this rare astronomical phenomenon," reads a statement. "Each school is free to organize its own activities. Students will also be advised not to look directly at the eclipse."

All other school boards contacted by CTV News on Friday said they're still weighing their options.

Undecided:

  • Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board
  • Eastern Townships School Board
  • Lester B. Pearson School Board
  • English Montreal School Board

Open:

  • Centre service scolaire de Montréal

Closed:

  • Centre service scolaire des Sommet

For the Education Ministry's part, a spokesperson said it's up to the school boards to determine the right move. 

However, "the ministry has relayed all the information to the heads of school organizations for planning the supervision of students on April 8, including daycare services and planning for the return home, since the time of the eclipse will coincide with the end of classes."

The moon covers the sun during a total solar eclipse in Piedra del Aguila, Argentina, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Keeping your eyes (and your kids' eyes) safe

Chou said the effects of unprotected exposure to a solar eclipse usually aren't felt until hours later.

"The eyes continue to function normally throughout the rest of the day. When they go to bed that evening and go to sleep, that's when the damage starts to manifest. And so when they open their eyes in the morning [...] they suddenly realize that there's this area right in the centre of their vision that doesn't seem to be working, everything's blurred," he explained.

Children may be especially vulnerable to the eclipse this year, given its timing (between 2:15 p.m. and 4:36 p.m. in Montreal, when kids aren't under the strict supervision of their teachers). 

But keeping youngters home isn't a perfect solution either, according to Chou: "Then the problem is that the parents or the caregivers are going to have to keep control of the kids."

Chou said parents and schools must be adamant about educating children and teens on how to look at the eclipse safely.

An important note is that these instructions may vary depending on where you are in Montreal.

"Montreal is an interesting situation because you've got that northern part of the city which is in near-eclipse -- you know, 99.5 per cent coverage -- and then you've got the area towards the river and south is in the path of totality."

It's only safe to look when the sun is completely, utterly covered, Chou stressed. Those moments before and after a total eclipse -- when the sun is still peeking out behind the moon -- must be viewed through specialized lenses.

Since coverage won't be complete in the northern part of the city, the glasses must stay on: "No matter how small that crescent happens to look, it's still dangerous."

And regular sunglasses won't cut it either, Chou cautioned.

Specialized solar eclipse glasses can be purchased widely online, but they must comply with the ISO 12312-2 standard -- a standard that Chou himself helped develop in 2015.

"Sunglasses, even the dark ones, are only cutting down the light by 90 per cent. So only 10 per cent of the light is coming through. In order to be safe to look at the sun, you have to have a filter that actually cuts off the sunlight by a factor of about one part in around 200,000 [...] the transmission is 0.0003 per cent."

With files from CTV's Matt Gilmour. 

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