In these ever-changing times during the pandemic, some districts are discussing staggering students’ arrival and departure times during the 2020-21 school year to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If your district is considering this option, you should be mindful of how this may affect students with disabilities.
The law is clear that a district cannot shorten the school day for students with disabilities solely for transportation purposes. The problem is that most of the caselaw regarding shortening a student’s school day was decided long before the COVID-19 pandemic required districts to adopt new transportation safety protocols. So, should the transportation department and special education directors be worried about making sure students with disabilities do not end up with shortened school days due to modified transportation practices?
Differences in the length of the school day for students with disabilities and their nondisabled peers can amount to disability discrimination under Section 504. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that staggering arrival and departure times may be the best option for some districts, districts need to be aware of how such an arrangement might affect a student’s right to FAPE if students with disabilities do not receive instruction or necessary services because of a shortened school day. If the school is staggering its entire schedule because of social distancing or transportation needs, and the students with disabilities get all of their services, just on a different schedule, this might not open the door to compensatory education.
If you have any questions about this or any other matter, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys at Leasor Crass.