An epic event will occur in Fannin County on Monday, August 21; there will be a total solar eclipse! Beginning at approximately 1:00 p.m. that day, the sun will gradually be blocked by the moon. As the afternoon progresses, the sky will gradually become darker until approximately 2:30 p.m. when“totality” – the point where the sun is completely blocked by the moon – occurs. This will last for a brief period, and then the sun will gradually reappear; by approximately 4:00 p.m., everything, at least regarding the sky, will be once again normal.
This once-in-a-lifetime event is expected to draw a significant number of people to our area. The band of
“totality” goes from coast to coast across our nation; however, the band is relatively narrow. Fannin County is within this narrow band, and many visitors are expected to be in our area. Since it is occurring on a Monday, it is my understanding that many visitors are planning to be here for an extended Weekend. The most conservative estimates compare local traffic in our area on August 21 to a major local festival or holiday, such as July 4. Major local festivals and holidays typically occur on days that our schools are otherwise out of session; however, this is occurring on a regular school day at a time when our campuses are busy. Since science is able to accurately forecast this event, I believe it is appropriate to plan for it as early as possible. Consideration must be given as to how it could impact our normal operations. My staff and I have consulted with members of local government, law enforcement, emergency management authorities, surrounding school districts, medical officials, and local hospitality leaders. From these conversations, the following has been concluded:
- Local hospitality leaders indicate that cabin/room rentals for the weekend around August 21 are noticeably
higher than usual, especially for this time of year.
- The most significant issue is expected to be greater-than-usual traffic and crowded roadways in Fannin
County, especially in and around Blue Ridge and McCaysville on August 21.
- According to the Fannin County EMA, McCaysville and Copperhill will be holding a “Street Festival” on August 21. Both trains will be in McCaysville that afternoon, and a large number of people are expected.
- Many more events are planned in counties near Fannin, and a significant increase in traffic through our county is being predicted as people travel home after the eclipse. The darkest time of this event is occurring just minutes before we would ordinarily begin parent pick-up for
primary grades at the elementary schools. This means students would be moving about in crowded loading areas and parking lots in much darker than normal (i.e., nighttime) conditions. Even with exterior lights on, the darker conditions increase the chance of an issue or accident at a critical time of transition on our campuses.
More people in our area means that emergency and 911 services are likely to be in greater demand. Our public safety agencies are anticipating this and working hard to prepare. They plan to have additional personnel on hand; however, we would be remiss not to account for the possibility of increased response times to our schools on August 21 should an emergency occur at a campus.
It seems odd to be discussing the cancellation of school not only before the school year begins but also weeks in advance. Since this phenomenon is expected to draw large crowds to our area, including downtown Blue Ridge and McCaysville, as well as the myriad of other potential issues, I must rely on the notion of “an ounce of prevention.” I do not believe it is prudent to add to this by placing our student drivers, school buses, and faculty and staff on the roads at a time that it is reasonable to expect issues. As a result, similar to an inclement weather day, Fannin County Schools will be closed for students and 190-day (or less) personnel on Monday, August 21.
In the meantime, our schools will be educating students on the science of this event. In addition, safety will be emphasized, including the dangers of looking at the sun at any time, even during the “totality” phase of the eclipse; please do the same at home. Remind your children that it should never be considered safe to look at the sun at any time, even during the nearly complete darkness of “totality,” without the use of special safety glasses or other approved means; doing so is likely to result in permanent eye damage.
Please know your child’s safety is the top priority. I hope that you and your family are able to spend time
together during this once-in-a-lifetime event in a safe and enjoyable manner. All Fannin County Schools will reopen on Tuesday, August 22.
Be sure to contact your child’s school or my office if you have questions. Thank you for your support.
Michael Gwatney, Ed.D.