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Menino defends decision to open schools during storm

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino today defended the decision to open schools in Boston, saying officials received conflicting forecasts before the snowstorm ended up dumping more than a foot of snow on the city.

“We got conflicting forecasts during the night and morning about how much snow and when it was going to happen,” Menino said. “Calling the schools off on 5 or 6 in the morning doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for our schools and it doesn’t work for working parents. What are they are going to do about day care?”

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“Everyone is saying, ‘Why didn’t you cancel school?’” Menino said in a telephone interview. “What about that family who has to go to work? What are they going to do with their child? Have them sit in front of a TV all day? I’d rather have them in school.”

City Councilor John R. Connolly, who is running for mayor and will challenge Menino if he seeks another term, criticized the decision.

“Predicting the weather is really hard, but if you were up at 5 a.m. this morning, you should have known that school should have been canceled,” Connolly said. “We have to put the safety of our children, teachers, and school staff first. And I don’t think we did that today.”

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“The ideal is to give parents as much notice as possible, but the bottom line is putting the safety of our kids first and erring on the side of caution,” he said.

School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson canceled afternoon extracurricular activities, including athletics, because conditions for the afternoon commute were worse than anticipated.

Schools were to be dismissed on the normal schedule and all buses were to complete their scheduled routes, Johnson said in a statement.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this unusual storm,’’ Johnson said.

Johnson also said some parents chose not to send their children to school today, and that the department will respect their choice by not marking them as absent. Instead, she said, they will be marked “constructively present.’’

“We know many families made their own decision as to whether to keep their children home and we want to honor those choices, which is why we will not mark these students as absent,’’ Johnson said in a statement.

The city said that the schools had an attendance rate of roughly 61 percent today. The schools have roughly 57,000 students.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.
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