In March, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issued Special Education Informational Bulletin 24.01 regarding the use of shortened school days.  Bulletin 24.01 replaces Informational Bulletin 14.03 on shortened school days and provides valuable new insights into how the DPI evaluates an individualized education program (IEP) team’s decision to shorten a student’s school day.

The DPI emphasizes in the Bulletin that a shortened school day is a significant barrier to a school district providing a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).  Thus, a student’s IEP team must thoroughly consider other options before deciding to shorten a student’s school day.  Before considering a shortened school day, the IEP team should review and revise the supplemental aids and services, specially designed instruction, and related services as appropriate to address the student’s needs.

The DPI also identifies in the Bulletin information an IEP team must discuss and document in the IEP whenever it shortens a student’s school day.  More specifically, the DPI advised that all of the following must be documented in the IEP:

  • An explanation of why the student’s unique, disability-related needs warrant shortening the student’s day;
  • The interventions and supports provided to address the identified needs;
  • How the IEP team will ensure the student’s continued progress in the general education curriculum and toward their IEP goals during the shortened day;
  • The IEP team’s plan to meet more frequently to review student progress, including current medical information or other data; and
  • Other options the IEP team considered and rejected.

Additionally, the DPI advises that the plan to review student progress should identify the interventions staff will employ to support the student, the methods staff will use to collect data on the interventions’ effectiveness, and data the IEP team will review to measure progress toward returning the student to a full school day.

Within the Bulletin, the DPI reiterates its previous guidance that school districts may not shorten a student’s school day simply upon a parent’s request.  This includes situations in which the parent seeks a shortened school day to facilitate outside therapy for the student.  According to the DPI, such situations should be addressed through the school district’s school attendance policy rather than revising the IEP to shorten the school day.  The DPI also cautions that frequent absences that interrupt special education services may result in a denial of FAPE even if the absences are excused.  Thus, a student’s IEP team should monitor student absences and reconvene if the absences negatively impact the student’s progress in the general education curriculum or toward annual goals.

Shortened school days continue to be a focus for the DPI and a consistent topic of state special education complaints.  The DPI’s general disapproval of shortened school days has been a source of frustration for school districts struggling to meet the growing mental health needs of their student population.  The new Bulletin provides useful information for how IEP teams can properly decide on and document a shortened school day in the IEP when necessary.