Families of students in the

Downingtown Area School District

received a surprise wake-up call from the superintendent early one morning last week.

A recording of Superintendent Sandra Griffin relaying the news of a two-hour delay due to icy roads went out to about 8,000 households in the district between 5:40 and 5:55 a.m. last Thursday. The calls were part of a new message system adopted by the district this year. The district planned to make parents aware of the new system this winter, but early bad weather forced an unannounced introductory run.

The message service, run by the company SchoolMessenger, costs $6,000 for the year, which covers about seven emergency calls like the one on Thursday morning, said district spokesperson Pat McGlone. Griffin can access the software through a computer at her home, and the software then calls her, allowing the superintendent to record a message. The software then dials the 7,998 names - all of the families of students and district employees - with the news.

As for any complaints to the earliness of the calls, McGlone pointed out that high-school students are out at their bus stops at 6:30 a.m., necessitating early warning calls if the buses aren't coming. McGlone said that the district received about 20 phone calls last Thursday by people requesting their removal from the call list.

- Will Hobson