District's Safety Concerns Do Not Justify Shortened School Day

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In Castaic (Ca) Union Elementary Sch. Dist., 58 IDELR 234 (OCR IX, San Francisco (Ca) 2011), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined that the school district denied students with mobility impairments a free appropriate public education when it shortened their school days and reduced their instructional time to ensure student safety. A group of elementary school students with mobility impairments and who used buses with wheelchair lifts filed a complaint with OCR because their school day was shortened. For most elementary school students in the district the school day lasted six hours and 31 minutes. But students who used buses with wheelchair lifts were required to leave their last class of the day 36 minutes earlier. After its investigation, OCR noted that this resulted in these students receiving 180 less instructional minutes per week than students who did not use buses with wheel chair lifts. The school district argued that having the accessible and regular buses run on the same schedule was too chaotic and potentially dangerous.

OCR agreed that safety may have been a relevant consideration, but it was not a valid reason for denying students with mobility impairments an equal educational opportunity. To be sure, if a shortened day is medically and educationally necessary, it may be appropriate for an individual student. But a shortened day for an entire category of students (such as these students who used accessible buses), is not an individualized decision. The school district agreed to develop a procedure to ensure that students with mobility impairments who received transportation services would receive equal instruction time.