We are often asked here on the East Coast if the instruction lost from snow days for students who receive special education should be made up by the school district. While snow days certainly don’t happen in all parts of the country, there are lessons to be learned for other cancellations of school due to weather events or unforeseen closures of school. The question really is this: if school is cancelled for everyone, regardless of the reason, should lost instructional time for student who have IEP’s (Individualized Education Programs) be made up?
Let’s break it down. Here in Connecticut, for example, too many snow days cause many school districts to go under the number of instructional days required by the State. Each state has its own number of required instructional days. When this happens, school districts are forced to borrow days back from the winter or spring vacations or add them onto the end of the school year. In this case, everyone’s snow days are being made up and there should be no issue for students who receive special education.
But what about snow days that aren’t made up for everyone? Students with disabilities are entitled to receive the same benefits of their school system that all students receive, otherwise it would be discriminatory. In a situation in which ALL students have missed school, the child with a disability is being treated the same as his or her non-disabled peers. In fact, there is no mention of make up days for student’s who have IEPs anywhere in the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
That said, the loss of instructional time can certainly have a different impact on a student who has an IEP, so I suppose one could make the argument that the loss of instructional time could result in a denial of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). If the loss of instructional time truly resulted in the denial of FAPE, then the reasonable request would be to ask for compensatory education. Compensatory education is truly make-up instructional time which “compensates” for a loss. If this is the route that you choose as a parent, proceed with caution as the denial of FAPE must be demonstrated and documented.
Our analysis boils down to this: generally speaking, school cancellation which effects all students equally would be hard to argue as having a discriminatory effect on students with disabilities. However, whether the impact of significant absences from school would pose great harm to a student with a disability in a way which would impact that child’s IEP must be reviewed, as with all IEP considerations, on an individual basis, and based on that child’s unique needs.