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Franklin County schools announce adjusted schedules for April 8 eclipse

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FRANKLIN COUNTY – In anticipation of the total solar eclipse, Franklin County’s school districts will have modified schedules on Monday, April 8, with superintendents along with emergency management officials citing safety concerns given the anticipated increase of traffic into the county for the event. The partial eclipse will begin in the early afternoon, with totality expected around 3:30 p.m., although the exact time varies by location.

The adjusted schedules are as follows:

RSU 9 – early dismissal

RSU 56 – early dismissal

MSAD 58 – early dismissal

RSU 73 – early dismissal

Stratton School – early dismissal

Rangeley Lakes Regional School – fully remote school day

Rangeley’s superintendent Georgia Campbell said, “Based on the influx of people anticipated to come this way, we made the decision to fully embrace the event remotely with our families. Students will be given an assignment to complete by their classroom teachers and be ready to discuss on Tuesday.”

For RSU 9, the concerns center around the afternoon bus run for students in PreK through fifth grade, as the bus run starts around 3:15 p.m.

In a letter to parents and guardians, RSU 9’s superintendent Christian Elkington wrote, “RSU 9 is looking at this as a teachable moment with staff working with students to help them understand what is happening and what they will need to do to safely experience the Eclipse. We have purchased ALL students protective glasses and will be sharing information with parents in the next couple of days. However, concerns remain about students being on buses during that time and bus drivers being able to manage both student excitement and ensuring the glasses are being worn.”

In addition, Franklin County Emergency Management Officials, along with local police, fire, ambulance, and Franklin Memorial Hospital staff are also worried about the potential for added problems that may be caused by an expected increase in traffic, Elkington wrote. 

The Stratton School will be sending home eclipse glasses for students, Principal Tabitha Emery wrote in a letter to parents, adding that they want to provide a unique and educational experience while keeping students safe. 

The decision for an early release day was made by the MSAD 58 school board in their March meeting, with a recommendation from superintendent Laura Columbia. Columbia noted that it’s a hard call to do a half day, but based on conversations with the sheriff’s department she felt it the safer option.

There are still a number of unknown elements with regards to traffic, although emergency management officials have noted a very high number of rentals and hotel bookings for the eclipse, and are anticipating a corresponding increase in visitors to the county. The actual number of tourists will be weather-dependent, as folks change places according to the weather forecast for the day of the eclipse. 

One of the major concerns that Franklin County Emergency Management Agency has shared relates to the short duration of the eclipse, with totality lasting less than five minutes. Director Amanda Simoneau and Deputy Director Sara Bickford, along with local, county, and state law enforcement, are aware of the possibility of a ‘mass exodus’ from the northern parts of Franklin County after the total eclipse passes. 

The Franklin County Commissioner’s Office issued a reminder for the public to respect private property and follow no trespassing signage. In addition, the commissioner’s office reiterated that the Byron Road located in Number 6 Township (Tumbledown Mountain Trail Head) in Franklin County is closed for winter maintenance. Vehicular traffic on this road is not permitted. 

The Rangeley Town Office announced this week that the airport will not be open to the public for the eclipse viewing and that the area around the airport will be posted with no parking signs. In addition, cemeteries are not available for viewing the eclipse. 

Other safety tips and recommendations include pre-planning routes and keeping paper maps on hand as rural Maine often has poor cell signal, and increased usage may further impact the cell reception. 

 

Planning Ahead:

Arrive early, stay put, leave late. If you are traveling into the region for the eclipse, plan to arrive early, even by a day or two. This can help soften the influx of traffic into the county and provide a more enjoyable experience for the visit. Plan to arrive at your eclipse viewing destination early, and once you arrive, stay put for the duration of the eclipse. Finally, leave late. The more vehicles getting on the roads immediately after the event, the higher the risk of traffic congestion, crashes, and delays. Stay overnight if possible, check out some of the events planned for after the eclipse, and take your time.

Prepare in advance. April is often winter and mud season all rolled into one, so you should be equipped with the appropriate cold weather gear. Bring extra snacks and water, phone chargers, flashlights, blankets, and books or games to pass the time. There are very limited bathroom facilities available and roadside rest areas may not be open for use this early in the season. Be prepared for limited or no cell phone service in northern Franklin County. Pre-plan your travel routes and bring paper maps with those routes outlined for easy use if necessary.

Make sure you have the appropriate equipment to safely view the eclipse, as looking directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, can damage your eyes. NASA has safety recommendations here: science.nasa.gov/eclipses

Know before you go. Monitor the weather conditions leading up to the event and be prepared to change plans based on the weather forecast and any hazardous conditions.

Make smart choices. Do not attempt backcountry hikes or trips unless you have a high level of skill in winter hiking and are prepared to self rescue if you become sick or injured. Due to limited cell phone service, you may not be able to call for help in the backcountry or on the mountains. Always make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back. The lakes and ponds in the area will not be frozen over, but if you are contemplating going out on open water, be aware that the water temperatures will be very cold. Follow all laws, safety guidelines, and recommendations, and do not venture beyond your skill level. This is not a good time to try new and unfamiliar activities.

Stop your vehicle and park safely before attempting to observe the eclipse. Do not park on the shoulders of roadways as this can create a traffic obstruction and impede the access of emergency vehicles and first responders. In addition, the shoulders of roads may be washed out or damaged in places following the December 18 flood events. Dirt roads will likely be soft and muddy, especially given the expected snow this week. 

In conclusion: even if you do not plan to view the April 8 eclipse, be prepared for possible disruptions to your daily routine. If you do plan to view the eclipse, make preparations in advance, and plan ahead to stay safe.

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