Eclipse’s cultural significance leads area school districts to cancel classes
FARMINGTON — Area schools have determined how they will balance holding classes and observing cultural practices during a solar eclipse.
New Mexico is expected to have a partial solar eclipse with the moon covering about 80 percent of the sun. The website, timeanddate.com, lists the eclipse starting at 10:22 a.m. and ending at 1:15 p.m.
With a student population of about 90 percent Native Americans, the Central Consolidated School District has decided to cancel classes on Monday.
CCSD Superintendent Colleen Bowman said the decision was made to allow students, teachers and staff to observe the eclipse as they choose.
"We're committed to the education and the well-being of all of our students, teachers and staff no matter what culture they come from. We're hoping that they use this day to recognize this global rarity," Bowman said.
She said the district notified the state education department about the closure and the school board is expected to revise the school calendar to list Aug. 21 as a holiday and list Presidents Day as a regular school day.
Elvin Keeswood is a cultural specialist for the district and a member of a cultural assistance team the district developed this year.
Keeswood said Diné teachings explain protocols and practices for an eclipse, including treating it with reverence and observing it as a time for the sun and moon to renew or to re-energize.
As movement between the sun and moon occurs, the individual remains indoors, refrains from eating, drinking, sleeping or using the bathroom, avoids intimacy and keeps movement to a minimum, he said.
If such activity happens, it can affect the individual's mental and physical health, Keeswood said.
He added that the cultural teachings he learned included prayer or meditation during the eclipse.
The district also developed a video, which is posted online, to explain the decision to cancel school and share information about the eclipse from the scientific view and from Navajo culture.
"Talk about the science of it, but also show there has to be respect for cultural knowledge, not just Navajo cultural knowledge, but cultural knowledge for all types of people," Bowman said.
She said if families decide not to observe cultural teachings, she encourages them to learn the science behind an eclipse by visiting the San Juan College Planetarium.
"We want to be able to use this as a day for families to choose how they want to view or take in the solar eclipse," Bowman said.
Kim Mizell, superintendent for Bloomfield schools, said her office has received calls from parents about the district's plan for addressing the eclipse.
Mizell said if parents decide to keep students at home, it will be listed as an excused absence.
Each school will have a designated location for students to stay if they decide to traditional observe the eclipse during school hours, she said.
Mizell added box lunches will be provided for students after the eclipse ends.
In a letter to community members from Farmington Municipal Schools Superintendent Eugene Schmidt stated the district will have a regular day of classes rather than the early release that was scheduled.
Schmidt wrote that parents who choose to keep students at home may verify the absence with their child's school, Schmidt wrote.
Aztec Municipal School District did not respond to a phone call for comment.
Classes start on Monday at San Juan College.
In an email sent Aug. 14 to employees and students, college President Toni Pendergrass wrote that Native American students and employees will have the option of an excused absence and a list of cancelled classes will be posted online.
She also wrote the college's planetarium will have telescopes set up adjacent to Parking Lot F for individuals to view the eclipse.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.