The Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Special Education (MDE OSE) recently issued three policy guidance documents entitled: IDEA Discipline Requirements; Shortened School Day and Special Education Reevaluation Process. We encourage our clients to review these documents to ensure compliance with MDE OSE expectations. Special attention should be paid to the guidance on shortened school day, which includes the following statements:
It is the position of the MDE that affording a student less than a full school day in order to eliminate the occurrence of a student’s problematic behavior in the educational environment (rather than teaching new skills) is contrary to the IDEA’s goal that an IEP result in appropriate progress, and directly at odds with the well-established zero-reject principle. Before deciding to shorten the student’s day, the IEP team must consider other ways to meet the student’s needs.
When a student’s school day is shortened, the student’s IEP should include:
- An explanation of why the student’s disability-related needs require a shortened day. [citation omitted].
- A clear explanation of the unique need or skill gap prohibiting the student from attending a full day of school (e.g., the student is medically fragile and lacks stamina, the student is recovering from an injury, or the student is currently unable to demonstrate safe behavior). [citation omitted].
- A clear connection to the growth and progress expected to be achieved by shortening the student’s school day (e.g., the student is expected to recover from the physical or medical condition with rest and medical treatment).
- A plan for the student’s return to school for a full day, which may include a plan to meet more frequently to review student data and determine whether the student is able to return to school full-time. [citation omitted].
The student must return to a full school day as soon as she or he is able, affording a student a full educational opportunity as required by 34 CFR 300.109. Under most circumstances, a shortened school day should be in place for only a limited amount of time.
This shortened school day guidance document also notes the situation is no different when a parent requests a shortened school day (e.g., for ABA therapy). Finally, OSE explains how its guidance will be implemented.
During compliance activities, the MDE will inquire about the link between the shortened school day, the provision of FAPE, and student progress by asking probing questions. For example:
- What skill is the student lacking in order to be successful attending the full school day (e.g., stamina, safe behavior, independence during unsupervised times)?
- How will removal from school meet the student’s educational needs? How will removal from school help close the skill gap? How will removal from school result in educational progress?
- What services can the team provide to help close the skill gap and educate the student in the [LRE], assist the student to be successful in school the entire day, and make progress in the general education curriculum?
- What is the plan, including a timeline, to return the student to a whole day of school?
OSE closes its guidance by warning that it considers a shortened school day a critical compliance factor. Therefore, IEPs that omit the information described above will by considered noncompliant. Any IEP that addresses a shortened school day through a conclusory statement or a checked box without addressing the crucial compliance inquiries will be considered noncompliant. Further, IEPs that do not align the reasons for the shortened school day with the identified educational needs of the student and the specific link to increasing the student’s skills will be deemed noncompliant and in need of corrective action.