Extended School Year (ESY) that elusive process that leaves us scratching our heads

Extended school year (ESY) was first established in federal law by the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (IDEA ’97).

While ESY services were to be a part of the planning for students prior to 1997 this requirement was drawn from case law. IDEA ’97 didn’t create new standards for ESY instead brought together well-established case law in the area. IDEA 2004 retained the same ESY requirements as IDEA ’97.

A central issue in FAPE is the IEP team’s determination of what services are appropriate. The process used in developing the IEP ensures that students with disabilities have appropriate education goals within the IEP. The planning for the goals is based on appropriate evaluation, to accommodate their unique instructional needs and that these needs are met in appropriate learning environments. The IEP process ensures that student with disabilities receive an appropriate education. A major issue regarding appropriate education centers on if the educational program is sufficient to provide meaningful educational benefit. The concept of benefit is a central point in consideration during the determination of needed services as a part of the IEP process.

The IEP team examines a student’s present level of performance or skill development, as well what might be needed for the student to progress beyond that level if provided with an effective program. The critical question that each IEP team must ask regarding ESY services is whether the learning that occurred during the regular school year will be significantly jeopardized if ESY services are not provided. Reasons why ESY services may be needed vary from student to student. For some students the issue may center on regression of social, behavioral, communication, academic, or self-sufficiency skills during interruptions in instruction. (This is the most commonly cited reason given by districts for why a student should or should not receive ESY). However, it is not the only reason for the need to receive ESY.

DREDF, a National Disability Rights Organization has the most comprehensive list of potential reasons ESY might be consider. Among these are two that may make a difference in how parents ask if their child is benefitting from their educational placement. It is important to consider that there are students that may experience losses because they reach a critical learning stage or concept and the break at the end of a school year may cause irreparable loss of that learning opportunity. For some students routine is paramount in helping them maintain skills that support continued placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Such continuity in learning can only happen through the use of ESY services. Additional information on reasons for ESY can be found at http://dredf.org/mail-se/2012/february/Extended-School-Year-Services.html

The determination of whether a student with a disability needs ESY services must be made on an individual basis and made by the IEP team. Districts may not have restrictive policies based on disability category, age, one specific reason for providing ESY, one type of setting, or an arbitrary length of time (by week, hour, or day) based on standards beyond that of the needs of the individual student.

Parents, students, and school staff should plan together and answer the questions regarding student needs. This may be:

Has the student demonstrated difficulty in regaining skills after breaks in service/ If so how long do they typically take to regain those skills?

Is (student) finally gaining a skill that he or she didn’t have before? Is that new found skill apt to be lost or irrepealably delayed because of a break in services?

Does (student) have routines that are critical to helping them stay in program, on task, or within the current environment? Will time away from this structure cause difficulties or deny the student FAPE?

ESY can also include Related Services that are needed to support the learning needs of the student. When considering the needs of students some points to remember include:

Remember, ESY services are to maintain skills already acquired, not to learn new skills that would be a nice side benefit.

ESY is not the same as summer school, but some summer school programs could satisfy ESY requirements.

Not all goals on the IEP need to be addressed during ESY nor do you need a new IEP for ESY services. The purpose is to continue progress toward already established goals.

A student who receives ESY services one year does not automatically guarantee he or she will be eligible for ESY the following year. All students with disabilities must be considered for ESY services at least annually.

Whether your child/student has received ESY in the past, it is important to know reasons why he or she may or may not qualify this year. Decisions regarding ESY need to take place early enough so that if there is disagreement between parents and schools, the procedural safeguards and protections can be put into place and resolved so as not to deny or delay services in the event they are deemed appropriate.