If your child has an IEP or 504, can they get a shortened school day or modified school schedule as an accommodation? The short answer is yes. But, it’s not a simple yes/no question. There are many considerations for the IEP team to discuss to ensure that your child still receives FAPE.

This is a question that has been coming up more frequently lately. Your child has already been identified as having a disability. He/she already has an IEP or 504.

A young boy with a shortened day IEP focusing intently on a laptop screen.

Now, for whatever reason, your child cannot attend the full school day or full school week. Does an IEP or 504 support a shortened or modified school day or school schedule?

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After almost 15 years of doing this, I just have to say “what is.” My advocacy strategy has always been to tell you “what should be,” which is the ideal that we should be aiming for. That often varies from “what is.”

And here’s “what is” in special education, now. Kids are being traumatized at school. Whether it’s bullying from peers or even staff, or being gaslit from school staff that their issue “really isn’t that bad, you’re fine!” to not being believed about their struggles or having a safe space….I could go on and on.

My point is: We are seeing record numbers of school refusal and absenteeism these days. My article on school truancy gets way more views than I’d like it to–likely because parents are experiencing truancy issues.

Ten years ago, I never would have suggested that you keep your child in. Don’t give in to school refusal, make the go, power through it.

My tune has changed. You know your kid. If they’re being traumatized, you have to do what you have to do.

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That may mean going to school less. Mind you, I will always tell you to advocate for more or better, and make that situation better. But, I don’t have the stomach anymore to watch kids regress mentally while parents argue with their IEP teams.

Do what you have to do do.

What IDEA says about Shortened School Days for IEP Students

IDEA does not directly define this. The legislation itself and the large discussion texts do not mention this specific modification. At least not that I could find.

However, it makes sense that it would not be in there. After all, the spirit of IDEA is that each child will receive supports and services specific to their needs.

And it’s not possible that any one piece of legislation could possibly list all of them.

However, I did find this tidbit on the OCR website.

iep 504 shortened class day
On the OCR website, this is specific to “hidden disabilities.”

Oddly, this is in response to questions about “hidden disabilities.” So, I would think that it would apply to all disabilities.

OCR Examples on Shortened School Days

The bullet points below are directly from the OCR website. Bold is mine.

The following examples illustrate how schools can address the needs of their students with hidden disabilities.

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  • A student with a long-term, debilitating medical problem such as cancer, kidney disease, or diabetes may be given special consideration to accommodate the student’s needs. For example, a student with cancer may need a class schedule that allows for rest and recuperation following chemotherapy.
  • A student with a learning disability that affects the ability to demonstrate knowledge on a standardized test or in certain testing situations may require modified test arrangements, such as oral testing or different testing formats.
  • A student with a learning disability or impaired vision that affects the ability to take notes in class may need a note taker or tape recorder.
  • A student with a chronic medical problem such as kidney or liver disease may have difficulty in walking distances or climbing stairs. Under Section 504, this student may require special parking space, sufficient time between classes, or other considerations, to conserve the student’s energy for academic pursuits.
  • A student with diabetes, which adversely affects the body’s ability to manufacture insulin, may need a class schedule that will accommodate the student’s special needs.
  • A student may need an adjusted class schedule to allow time for regular counseling or therapy.
  • A student with epilepsy who has no control over seizures, and whose seizures are stimulated by stress or tension, may need accommodation for such stressful activities as lengthy academic testing or competitive endeavors in physical education.
  • A student with arthritis may have persistent pain, tenderness or swelling in one or more joints. A student experiencing arthritic pain may require a modified physical education program.

So, there you go. Directly from the horse’s mouth. “Great,” you might be thinking. “Now how do I get my team on board.”

Shortened School Days

How to Get Shortened School Days on an IEP or 504.

You may want to print that bit off of the OCR website, just to demonstrate that it is allowed as a consideration. Right away, this will help you overcome the “well, we can’t do that…” You can, if it’s appropriate for the child.

  1. Gather your Data. Remember, IEPs are needs driven and data driven. Supports and services and modifications are given based on needs, not diagnosis. Your first step is to gather your data. You will need records, emails, doctor’s visit recaps, etc. to demonstrate that this is a need.
  2. Make a written request for an IEP meeting. Next, you’ll want to ask for an IEP meeting to discuss this. Request a meeting and list what you want to discuss.
  3. Include your parental concerns as a reason for calling the meeting. How is a full day/week adversely affecting your child? And how is that affecting their ability to access FAPE? If something happens during the school day, always follow up with an email to the school staff person who was in charge at that particular moment. This helps to make your case that full day/week attendance is interfering with FAPE.
  4. Prepare for and attend the IEP meeting. Ask for the Shortened/Modified Day. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as you already have data and have sent them your concerns. Have solutions ready.
  5. Do your After IEP Meeting Letter. Everyone skips this step. Don’t.
  6. Wait for your final IEP and PWN. And read your Procedural Safeguards. Another step that most parents skip. Don’t.

Every IEP request you make follows the same basic IEP Process.

Have a Plan to Move Forward.

It’s common sense. If your child is in school for X number of fewer hours than his/her peers, he is going to miss out on X number of instruction hours.

That’s not a decision to be taken lightly. And you must be prudent to assure that this does not cause the gap between your child and his/her peers to widen.

Here are some questions that you should be discussing with your IEP team. I have included a printable below so that you can take it to your IEP meeting.

  • How many hours/days per week will the child miss?
  • What is the plan for the schedule? How can this be scheduled so as to minimize the time away from school? And, the time away from the priority classes?
  • Is there another course of action to consider? Can the child rest in the nurse’s or counselor’s office for 30–60 minutes? Is there an alternative to missing school, that has not been considered?
  • What coursework is the child going to miss? And how will that be handled?
  • For the child, what is the plan to build up their endurance so that this is not a permanent solution? What are the barriers to attending 5 full days a week, and what can be done to overcome them?
  • How will the child’s grades be handled for work missed during this time?
  • If the child misses scheduled therapy time, how will that be handled?
  • What happens as far as transportation?
  • If the child is up to attending the full day, who can they tell, and when? What check-ins during the week will happen to make sure that the child is encouraged to attend if they feel up to it?
  • How will progress be measured and monitored on this accommodation? When will the IEP team reconvene to discuss this? (in my opinion, this shouldn’t go a full year)

To answer your question–yes, a shortened or modified school schedule is an allowed accommodation per the OCR. But, like anything else on the IEP, it’s a team decision. Use the IEP process.

Modified Day for Special Education Students

There can be several reasons why an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team may resist providing a modified school schedule as an accommodation for a child. Here are some potential reasons:

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  1. Lack of Understanding: The team may not fully understand the child’s needs or the benefits of a modified schedule in meeting those needs. There might be a need for further clarification or education on the part of the team.
  2. Resource Limitations: Schools may have limited resources, including staffing and budget constraints, which could make it challenging to implement a modified schedule for a particular student. This is likely to happen if you are asking for homebound instruction.
  3. Concerns about Equity: There might be concerns among the team members about equity and fairness if one student receives a modified schedule while others do not. They may worry about setting a precedent or the impact on other students’ perceptions. Using IDEA as your guide should throw all of this out the window, but it’s likely to come up.
  4. Academic Standards: The team may be concerned that a modified schedule could impact the child’s ability to meet academic standards or keep up with their peers academically.
  5. Administrative Hurdles: There could be administrative hurdles or policies within the school or district that make it difficult to implement a modified schedule. This can be anything from monitoring workload to transportation.
  6. Parental Pushback: Sometimes, there may be resistance from parents or guardians who may not understand or agree with the need for a modified schedule, complicating the decision-making process for the IEP team.
  7. Stigma or Labeling: There might be concerns about stigmatizing the child or labeling them as different if they have a modified schedule, which could influence the team’s decision-making.
  8. Transition Issues: The team may be concerned about how a modified schedule would affect the child’s transition back to a regular schedule or to other educational settings in the future.
  9. Legal or Compliance Concerns: There could be concerns about whether providing a modified schedule would comply with legal requirements or regulations governing special education services.
  10. Long-Term Planning: The team may also consider the long-term implications of a modified schedule on the child’s educational and developmental goals, including whether it would adequately prepare them for future academic and life challenges.

Addressing these concerns requires open communication, collaboration among team members, and a thorough understanding of the child’s individual needs and circumstances.

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