MDE Issues Special Education Guidance

MDE’s Office of Special Education recently issued three guidance documents addressing shortened school days, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reevaluation process, and special education discipline requirements. While the reevaluation and discipline guidance documents largely restate federal law, MDE’s guidance on shortened school days de­scribes the circumstances under which schools may shorten a school day for a student eligible for special education under the IDEA.

MDE’s shortened school day guidance initially notes that eligible students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) regard­less of the severity of the student’s disability, including behavioral difficulties. This “zero-reject policy” ensures that all students with disabilities receive a FAPE.

The guidance also reminds school officials that students with disabilities have the right to attend school for the same length of time as students without disabilities. This position is consistent not only with the IDEA’s protections but also the equal educational op­portunity requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Unless a student’s IEP team deter­mines that a student’s unique disability-related needs require a shortened school day, a FAPE generally in­cludes the right to attend school for the full school day. Further, reducing a student with a disability’s school day in an attempt to eliminate a student’s problematic behavior is generally “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 shortening a student’s school day, the student’s IEP team must consider alternative ways to meet the student’s needs. If an IEP team determines to shorten a student’s school day, MDE requires that the student’s IEP include the following:

  1. An explanation of why the student’s disability-related needs require a shortened school day;
  2. A clear explanation of the unique need or skill gap prohibiting the student from attending a full school day;
  3. A clear connection to the growth and progress expected to be achieved by shortening the stu­dent’s school day; and
  4. A plan for the student’s return to school for a full school day.

In short, an IEP team must conduct more than a cursory review before implementing a shortened school day for a student with a disability.

Finally, MDE recommends that an IEP team shorten a student’s school day only on a temporary basis and return the student to a full school day as soon as the student is able. The guidance clarifies that any plan for the student’s return to a full school day should not be conditioned upon the student “earning” the right to re­turn by demonstrating good behavior, taking medica­tion, or receiving treatment, therapy, or other services.

Based on MDE’s guidance and its clearly established monitoring and oversight priorities, school officials must be prepared to explain why a student’s disability-related needs required a shortened school day and the plan to return the student to a full school day. MDE’s shortened school day guidance may be found at:

If you have questions about MDE’s shortened school day or other guidance, please contact a Thrun special education attorney.

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