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Schools alter schedules due to eclipse

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By AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Thursday, August 17, 2017

TARBORO — After an intense discussion, the board of directors of North East Carolina Prep School voted Tuesday night to close school early on Monday for fear of lawsuits related to the solar eclipse. 

William Etheridge, executive director of North East Carolina Prep, told board members Tuesday that he had concerns about school being in session at 1:19 p.m. when the effects of the eclipse are set to begin in Edgecombe County. He recommended dismissing school at 11:30 a.m. 

“The maximum peak of the eclipse will happen as we dismiss school and I am concerned that parents may sue if their child’s eyes are damaged by the solar eclipse,” Etheridge said. “We really should have the buses off the road before then.”

Etheridge told the board that he had checked with charter school officials and that the early dismissal would not affect the school’s average daily membership and the funds tied to that figure.

Board member Othar Woodard said he felt that many students would probably not come to school at all on Monday because of the eclipse.

Board member Lisa Winstead said she was mainly concerned about the younger children at the school.

“I do see the concerns. It is hard to tell a young child to not stare at the sun,” Winstead said.

However, board Vice Chairman Chris Bissette said he felt the idea was unmerited.

“We also can’t stop kids from staring at the sun at recess either,” Bissette said. “What’s next? Do you close the school down every time there is a thunderstorm? It is more important that these kids be educated.”

Board member David Anderson agreed.

“Some of the students may be safer with us during an eclipse than they would be at home,” Anderson said.

Board member Scott Radosevich said he was concerned about the amount of traffic likely to be on the highway that day.

“This is being revved up as a once-in-a lifetime experience,” Radosevich said.

Woodard said he wanted more details as to the likelihood of the school being sued and its liability if it were.

“I can’t tell if anyone will sue us,” Etheridge said. “I don’t think they would win if they did. But I am trying to err on the side of caution.”

Board Chairwoman Jennifer Watson agreed.

“If we can be held liable, the kids should probably go home,” Watson said.

Woodard expressed his relief that votes on such matters are uncommon.

“If this is really a once-in-a-lifetime event, at least we won’t have to take this vote again,” Woodard said.

The board ultimately approved the measure in a 3-2 vote, with Bissette and Anderson opposing.

Other schools in the area with early start dates are also addressing the eclipse issue.

New Life Christian Academy announced Wednesday that it also will be ending classes at 11:30 a.m. on Monday “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Faith Christian School announced on its Facebook page on Tuesday that school will dismiss at 12:15 p.m.

‘After careful thought and consideration for heavy traffic, FCA has decided to dismiss early Monday,” the post said.

Rocky Mount Academy is planning a Super Solar Eclipse Buddy Event on Monday to celebrate and learn about the eclipse together.

Public schools in the Twin Counties do not open until Aug. 28, a week after the eclipse.

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