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Snow fallout: Westport teachers fume over late cancellation of classes in Monday's storm

Updated 5:29 pm, Wednesday, February 5, 2014
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Not only did Westport teachers monitor the snowfall forecast for early Wednesday, they also paid close attention to if -- and when -- Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon made a decision on whether classes would be cancelled for the week's second winter storm.

And, unlike Monday, when criticism engulfed the supertintendent's last-minute decision to cancel classes when many teachers and some students were already en route to school as snow fell, the decision to shut schools Wednesday was made shortly after 9 p.m. the night before.

But Landon waited until 6:43 a.m. Monday to notify staff, students and parents that schools would be closed because of that morning's snow storm, even though classes at Staples High School begin at 7:30 a.m.

"We usually get a phone call from the superintendent and an email blast when school is delayed or cancelled," said John Horrigan, tri-president of the Westport Education Association, who is a Coleytown Middle School librarian.

"I live near work and woke up about ... 6 (a.m.) Monday and I checked the school closings" on two television stations, he said Tuesday. "All but Greenwich and Westport had cancelled."

He said all of the other nearby shoreline school districts had already called off classes for the day. "I thought we were having school even though it was already snowing," he added.

Landon did not respond to calls from the Westport News, but in an email interview with Inklings, Staples High School's student newspaper, he blamed a meteorologist.

"We had some technical issues with our private weather forecaster," he said in the story posted on the Inklings website. "Landon added that between 5 and 5:30 a.m., there was no snow and that in some forecasts, the snow was not predicated to start until later, and then "only to about an inch by the end of the school day." Here is a link to the Inklings story with comments from Landon, who refused to discuss the issue with other local media outlets: http://bit.ly/1fSzyQx

But Horrigan said that, weather predictions aside, "a reasonable person can look outside and see significant snow was already falling."

He said Westport teachers are responsible and want to show up to class on time.

"The problem is some live a distance away and really begin their drive early," he said, adding that's why a timely announcement of school closing is vital.

"Monday many of the high school teacher were already on their way to school when they heard school was cancelled," he said. "One teacher was turning into the parking lot at Staples and an assistant principal waved her away."

He said he received about 35 emails and text messages from teachers upset by the late cancellation announcement.

He requested input from the 550 teachers the Westport teachers' union represents and said 150 teachers responded, with many reporting they had "some issue or problem with driving to school" Monday.

Horrigan said he hasn't spoken directly to Landon, but did send him an email expressing the union's concern about what happened, but he said he received no response.

"We aren't looking for an apology, just an acknowledgement of what happened," he said.

Asked for a reaction to the incident, Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney issued this statement: "The Board of Education delegates to the superintendent of schools the responsibility for making closure decisions based on the careful consideration of the safety of school students and staff members in light of the most current information available at any point in time."