The head of Accu-Weather, a private national weather forecasting service, said yesterday that D.C. School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed is "trying to pass on the blame" by contending that a change in the service's prediction was the reason for the confusing, last-minute decision to close schools Wednesday because of snow.
"He's a liar," Reed said when he was told that Dr. Joel Myers, head of the weather service, had denied that the forecast was changed.
"... That is what we were told, that the forecast had been changed," Reed told a reporter.
Thousands of parents and students were surprised Wednesday when they learned of announcements that schools would be closed only minutes before the scheduled opening time. Reed said the late decision to close followed a change in the weather forecast by Accu-Weather which called for a major snowfall.
Reed said the decision to close then was made during a phone conversation between school board president Minnie S. Woodson and himself after he received the revised forecast at about 8 a.m. He said he informed several members of his staff, and along with them called radio and television stations to announce that schools would be closed.
But most stations reported that they were not told that D.C. schools would be closed until 8:50 a.m., 10 minutes before the school day was to begin.
The decision caught some students at school and other on their way to school and with many parents already at work.
Reed said he was told at 6 a.m. that there would be a "warming trend" that would bring rain and wash snow from city streets. But at about 8 a.m., Reed said, the Accu-Weather forecast was changed to indicate that the snow would continue throughout the day and he decided soon after to close schools.
But Myers, head of Accu-Weather, which is based in State Park, Pa., said there was no change in the forecasts his firm sent to D.C. city officials. Myers said that forecasts called as early as Monday for four to eight inches of snow.
"Apparently Vincent Reed or someone in the school system made the wrong decision," said Myers. "And now they are trying to pin it on someone. We don't want it pinned on us."
Al Perkins, who handles weather forecasts for the D.C. Department of Transportation, said that as early as Tuesday night, school officials were told to expect a heavy snowfall throughout Wednesday on the basis of Accu-Weather reports.
Perkins said school officials called the Department of Transportation at 6 a.m. Wednesday and again at 8:35 a.m. each time he said, they were told that snow was expected to continue all day with no "warming trend" that would change snow to rain. In the 8:35 a.m. report, Perkins added, school officials were told that the snow would become heavier.
"Either they are trying to get out of this by saying there was a change or they misunderstood," said Perkins. "But they got the message three times," Reed did not comment on Perkins' account.
In the interview yesterday, Reed said that when there is snow he makes every attempt to keep schools open.
"I'll be frank with you," Reed said "I have a stingy attitude about closing schools; I don't like to do it.
Reed said one factor that contributed to his decision to close schools is that many of the suburban school districts had closed their schools, and D.C. public school teachers who live in the suburbs would have had to stay home to take care of their children.
Reed said he closed schools Wednesday when he heard that the snow would be continuing throughout the day because he was concerned that children might not be able to make it home at the end of the school day at 3 p.m.
"We don't have to close schools because of snow," Reed said. "But [Wednesday] we were getting into a situation where it was becoming too dangerous for the kids to walk to school. You could have slippery sidewalks and kids falling, cars going out of control, that sort of thing. Plus a lot of the [high school] kids take public transportation, and the snow slowed up the buses to the point where some kids wouldn't have got to school until 12 or 1 o'clock."
Unlike the case in most of the suburban school districts in the area, Reed bases his decision on closing schools primarily on weather forecasts.
In Prince George's County, for example, a team of eight county employes crisscrosses the county in cars to check on the condition of county roads. Streets and roads clear of snow are essential if schools in the suburbs are to open because a large number of suburban students ride buses to school.
In the District of Columbia most public school students are able to walk to school.