Extended School Year (ESY)

What is Extended School Year (ESY)?

Extended School Year (ESY) is something that schools and families usually consider in the April/May time frame. So why are we looking at this now?

There are actually a few important reasons for this. ESY services are individualized special education and/or related services (such as speech/language therapy or occupational therapy) that are uniquely designed to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to a student with disabilities (as mandated by IDEA). The need for ESY services must be determined on an individual basis by the Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT). Once the MDT has determined there is a need for ESY an IEP amendment will be developed to identify and address the specific areas where the team has determined the need for ESY. The IEP developed for ESY must include goals and objectives.  It should also discuss how and when those services should be provided, including both the days of the school year and the hours of the school day. ESY services must be provided at no cost to the parents.

It’s important to understand that ESY services are not the same as:

  • summer school
  • compensatory services
  • enrichment programs
  • IDEA Regulations and Extended School Year Services

The IDEA regulations define “extended school year services” as special education and related services that:

  • Are provided to a child with a disability
  • Beyond the normal school year of the public agency (typically the school district);
  • In accordance with a child’s IEP;
  • At no cost to the parents of the child; and
  • Meet the standards of the State Educational Agency

As you will note in this description of ESY, there is not a set time or place when ESY occurs. ESY services may be needed during the summer and / or during shorter breaks (such as winter and spring holiday breaks) of one or two weeks in length. ESY services can even be an extension of the student’s normal school day, such as a special tutoring program. It is important to understand that ESY services are not a continuation of the student’s entire special education program. Some students may need only certain instruction and/or related services (such as reading instruction or speech/language therapy) outside of the normal school year. Any student who is eligible to receive special education and related services may be eligible for ESY. The decision is based solely on the individual needs of the student.

All school districts must ensure that ESY services are available and necessary to provide FAPE to eligible students. Here are other requirements to take into consideration:

  • The specific type of disability does not determine eligibility.
  • Districts are not allowed to limit ESY services to categories of disability.
  • Districts cannot alone limit the type, amount or duration of ESY services.

Districts may not use a lack of resources as a reason for not examining a student’s possible need for ESY services, or for not providing ESY services to an eligible student. They may be able to provide ESY services to eligible students by contracting with a nearby district or private provider.

While ESY services typically take place over the summer months since there is a focus on regression and recoupment of skills, this is not the sole reason to implement ESY.

Other reasons for ESY could be:

  • The nature and severity of the student’s disability. The MDT may consider ESY if the nature and severity of the disability is likely to significantly jeopardize the student’s ability to benefit from services if the student has a stop in instructional support.
  • The student’s degree of progress toward IEP goals.
  • How quickly is the student progressing from year to year without ESY services?
  • Will the loss of services during the school break significantly jeopardize the student’s progress toward the goals?
  • The student’s emerging skills and breakthrough opportunities.
  • Is the student at a breakthrough point in a critical skill or skills, such as reading?
  • Will the interruption of services and instruction significantly jeopardize the educational benefit the student is receiving from the specialized instruction or related service(s)?
  • The student’s behavior(s). The student may need ESY services to keep the behaviors from significantly jeopardizing the educational learning during the next school year. If this is the case, management of such behaviors should be part of the student’s current IEP.
  • Special circumstances or other factors. Are there other special circumstances or factors that could significantly put at risk the student’s learning during the normal school year?

Special circumstances or other factors mentioned above might include:

  • The student’s opportunity to interact with children without disabilities in what IDEA calls the “least restrictive environment.” In other words, will a break in services set him back so much that, once school resumes, he’ll need to spend less time in the general education classroom and more time receiving intensive/specialized instruction elsewhere?
  • The specific areas of the student’s curriculum that need continuous attention.
  • The educational structure in the student’s home (e.g., having parents who are willing and able to give the child adequate learning support and reinforcement).
  • How are ESY services determined?
  • The need for services are determined using formal or informal evaluations. This could be a simple data sheet to a more complex assessment. No matter what the strategy for gathering information, it is important to remember that this data can be provided by the district or the parents.
  • If a student requires a significant amount of time to recoup critical skills, then the MDT must discuss whether the student needs extended educational or related services during school breaks. If the loss of acquired critical skills would be substantial, or if such loss results in immediate physical harm to the student or to others, ESY services may be justified without consideration of the period for recoupment of such skills.

With the holiday break and the upcoming spring breaks, make sure you keep track of the skills and the length of time it appears the student needs to relearn the information. If we wait till the end of the year for these discussions, we may easily forget the other times the student has had difficulties.

Keeping track of the information throughout the year helps to demonstrate the need more easily. Some of the types of information to be reviewed, might be:

  • Current and previous IEP goals
  • Classroom tests and grades
  • Classroom observations (by qualified professionals such as a school psychologist or social worker)
  • Standardized tests, including statewide assessments in key academic subjects such as reading and math
  • Student work samples
  • Progress monitoring data
  • Attendance information (e.g., frequent illness that has kept the student out of school, causing him to lose ground academically)
  • Parent interviews and input
  • Expert opinions from professionals outside the school

Some additional factors to keep in mind are:

  • The determination of whether a student is eligible for ESY should not be made so late in the normal school year that the family would not be able to exercise its due process rights to challenge the decision.
  • Eligibility for ESY services one year does not guarantee future eligibility.
  • Eligibility for ESY services includes the provision of transportation to and from the location of the services.
  • ESY services are not required to maximize a student’s potential. Just as students without disabilities do not have a right to an education designed to maximize their potential, neither are school districts required by IDEA to maximize the potential of students with disabilities.

The State Directors of Special Education (OSEP 2013) has made it clear that students transferring schools during the summer who have ESY in the IEP they bring with them. The new school district generally must provide ESY services as comparable services to a transfer student, and may not refuse to provide services to a child merely because the services would be provided during the summer.

With the school year coming to a midway point now is the time to assure that you, as the parent, are aware of the potential opportunities that ESY can provide. Talk with your child’s teachers and put in writing that ESY be considered if you have any concerns.

Resources for this article:

Special Education Guide

Great Schools

Wrights Law