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Figures show up to 50% of students played snow make-up day hooky

Updated 3:45 pm, Monday, April 21, 2014
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Westport schools saw a "very high" number of absences Monday of last week, which at the start of the academic year was supposed to be the first day of the weeklong April school vacation.

"The student absences for April 14 ranged from 35 percent to 50 percent," Superintendent Elliott Landon said Monday, depending on the school. "This was an unusually, very high number of absences for any one day during the school year."

Although initially slated as a vacation day, classes were convened April 14 because of the number of days cancelled due to snowstorms this past winter -- one of the most harsh on record.

The Board of Education had included five snow/emergency days in its 2013-14 calendar, but any cancellation days over that amount would eat into the spring break, parents were told. A sixth snow day in February meant losing one day of the previously scheduled spring break.

The school board made it official in March that April 14 would be a make-up day.

At a recent Board of Education meeting, Landon had reminded parents and students that classes would be in session April 14, though the rest of the week would be a vacation.

But it appears that reminder went unheeded by a number of families with school-aged children.

"The Board of Education has had extensive discussions over the last several years about the school calendar in light of a series of significant weather-related events," Whitney said at that time the vacation day officially became a school day.

"That culminated in the establishment last January of a new set of guidelines for setting the school calendar in a given year," she said.

But many had already made plans for the spring break. For instance, just after the board's announcement was made, sisters Jamie and Jordan Santarella, both Staples High School students, said they would not change plans to travel to the Dominican Republic with a group called Builders Beyond Borders.

That sixth snow day actually began as a delayed opening, then was changed to a full closure.

"I don't understand why it was changed," April Lebowitz said following the March announcement, noting that school officials initially planned a two-hour delay in opening schools before changing to a full-day off.

"Even delaying it three hours would have been better than cancelling it," she said.