Delayed snow day call generates frustration and anger

Solid snowfall on Mon., Feb. 3 caused Superintendent Elliott Landon to call a snow day. Eventually.

From teachers, some of whom drove through steady snow to commute to Westport, to students, whose inconvenience ranged from waiting for buses that never showed to arriving at a school that closed quickly, many in the school community expressed unhappiness with how today’s snow day announcement was handled.

In an email interview, Landon explained his logic.

“We had some technical issues with our private weather forecaster,” he said. Landon added that between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., there was no snow and that in some forecasts the snow was not predicted to start until later, “and then only to about one inch by the end of the school day.”

However, multiple weather reports from as early as two days prior to the beginning of the snowfall predicted more snow.

“The original forecast from 48 hours out was 2-4 inches all during the school day, and it only grew from there,” local amateur meteorologist and the man behind the Southwestern Connecticut Weather Website, Jacob Meisel ’13, now a freshman at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, said.

On Sun., Feb. 2 at 4:30 p.m., for example, the Weather Channel reported that snow accumulations were expected to reach 3-5 inches.

According to Meisel, snow was falling at about an inch per hour by the time the snow day phone call was made. Greenwich, Norwalk, and Fairfield were the last school districts to close before Westport, and each announced closure no later than 5:45 a.m.

“It doesn’t take a trained meteorologist to look at the radar and see that very heavy snow was over or headed towards the region and was not going to stop for hours,” Meisel said.

For many, the first report of Wesport schools closing was on Westport Now at 6:45 a.m., and the phone call announcing the snow day came to most Westport School District households and teachers between 6:40 a.m. and 6:50 a.m. Attempts to reach the snow line earlier ended with an old message, a busy signal, or a message asking for an extension before hanging up.

A number of students were already awake and ready for the school day before finding out that they could have snuck in a few extra hours of sleep.

“I lingered in bed as long as possible and finally got up, got all ready and walked through the snow to the end of my driveway,” Peter Elkind ’14 said. It wasn’t until 6:55 a.m., after Elkind had made his way to his bus stop, that he received a text from his friend telling him that school had finally closed.

Many teachers made it even further than the end of their drive way as the snow piled up,  according to John Horrigan, Coleytown Middle School Librarian and co-president of the Westport Education Association. Horrigan said a number of teachers had already started—and ended—the commute to their school before the snow day was called.

“I heard from 150 teachers who wrote in, and they were extremely upset because a lot of them had already left for school,” Horrigan said. “They felt that they were put in danger unnecessarily.”

Landon responded by saying that staff in Westport live in towns from Westport and Fairfield to points further north and east. And, he said, they “managed to drive to work today and during each of the recent days when snow was falling.”

He added, “Our teachers are adults and are expected to meet their employment obligations in the same way as private citizens.”

Students’ issues with the storm depended on how soon they found out about the cancellation. Siobhan O’Loughlin ’15 had already showered and gotten dressed, and was in the middle of finalizing her backpack before the phone rang at 6:50 a.m. to let her know that she could have stayed in bed.

“I put sweatpants back on and tried to fall back asleep, but it didn’t work because I had already showered,” O’Loughlin said.

One bus that transports students who live in Bridgeport and attend Westport Public Schools was already making its way to Staples with about 10 students on board. Jaydah Cannon ’16 climbed on the bus at 6:30 a.m. As the bus was about to enter I-95, she got a snow day text from her friend and alerted the bus driver, who then returned the students to their houses.

Some students even got so far as arriving at school before receiving word that it was a snow day. Hannah Myers ’14 was instructed by her mom to leave early so she had time to drive slowly on the dangerous roads. Myers left her house at 6:35 a.m. and got to school before finding out from her friends that school had been cancelled.

“It was frustrating that now I had to put myself at risk again to [drive] home,” Myers said.

Gracyn Levenson ’16 was walking into school as she got the snow day call.

“It was awkward. It was annoying. I was already all prepared for the day,” Levenson said.

Parents also voiced complaints about the delayed call. Tina Piccolino, mother of students in the Westport School District, felt that the 6:45 a.m. call came far too late.

“I’m just happy no one got hurt,” Piccolino said.

According to Horrigan, the Westport Education Association has written a letter to Dr. Landon and the Board of Education because the association feels that the delayed call put students and staff in danger.

“We’ve done it before, and Dr. Landon accepted our concerns, but I guess he didn’t follow through,” Horrigan said.

Board of Education chair Elaine Whitney was contacted for comment but deferred questions to Superintendent Landon.

Sarah Fair, another mother of Westport School District students, believes that although Landon tries hard to keep everyone safe and keep school open, perhaps the district should consider a different timeframe within which the call has to be made, for future weather-related school closings or delays.