ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE

A Brief Overview

  • Extended School Year (ESY) services help a student with a disability maintain skills in academic and/or functional areas, such as speech/language, occupational therapy, or behavior.
  • The team that administers the Individualized Education Program (IEP) determines what is needed for a student in special education to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), and ESY might be needed to deliver FAPE.
  • ESY is provided when school is not normally in session. Typically, it’s provided during summer; ESY also can be provided during holiday breaks or as an extension of the typical school day.
  • Any student eligible to receive special education and related services may be eligible for ESY. The need for services is determined through evaluation.
  • Parents can keep notes about any loss of skill during a break from school. By tracking how long it takes to recover a skill, parents can provide data for a discussion about whether ESY is needed.
  • ESY services are provided at no cost to the family.
  • Districts may contract with a nearby district or private provider to support an eligible student.
  • Read on for more detail about what may qualify a student for ESY.

Full Article

With summer coming, some parents worry that a child’s progress at school might be erased by the break. Parents can request a meeting with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to review progress. The team uses existing data and can plan additional evaluations to decide whether the student needs extra instructional time. The student might need supplemental instruction in an academic subject or to maintain a skill in speech/language, occupational therapy, behavior or another area being served through the IEP.

The critical question for the IEP team: Will learning that occurred during the regular school year be significantly jeopardized if ESY services are not provided?

Extended School Year (ESY) is available for students in special education if there is evidence that without extra instruction they will fall significantly behind in specific skills. Falling behind is formally called regression. Recovery of those skills is called recoupment. A school will provide ESY if regression or likelihood of regression is significant and extra instructional time is needed for recoupment of skills. ESY services help a child maintain skills already being taught and are not provided to teach new skills.

Families often think of ESY as a summer program, but it’s not the same as summer school. ESY is provided when school is not normally in session. ESY also can be provided during holiday breaks or as an extension of the typical school day. A summer-school program can be structured to accommodate a student’s individualized ESY program.

Conversations about ESY can happen any time the IEP team meets to discuss progress and goal-setting. If ESY is determined necessary, the IEP document includes an amendment with specific ESY objectives. When an IEP team determines a child eligible for ESY, the school district alerts parents in a Prior Written Notice (PWN) before implementing ESY. If transportation is needed for delivery of ESY services, the district provides transportation.

ESY is not an enrichment program. It is not provided for credit recovery. It is also not a “compensatory service,” which is provided by the district when a student’s services have not met requirements for a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

A student who qualifies for special education services is protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The student is entitled to FAPE, and the school district is responsible for providing FAPE. Nearly every discussion about services relates to FAPE and what is needed to make a student’s individualized program appropriate. PAVE has an article about IDEA with more information about FAPE and other foundational principles in special education.

Each state administers the IDEA with its own more specific policies and guidelines. The Washington Administrative Code (WAC) includes detail about ESY in sections 392-172A-02020.

ESY services might include 1:1 instruction at home, at school or at a district office. A student could also receive ESY as part of “related services” at a provider’s office. (Occupational and speech therapy are examples of related services.) Computer- and home-based learning are additional ESY options. Like all IEP programming, ESY is individualized. Service delivery is designed by the IEP team, and sometimes creative problem-solving is needed.

If the IEP includes ESY services and the family moves during the summer, the new school district is responsible to provide the services as they are designed in the IEP or in a comparable way.

Who is eligible for ESY?

The IEP team decides whether a student requires ESY services by meeting to review the student’s progress toward IEP goals. PAVE has an article about goal-tracking. Parents or teachers may have notes about any loss of skill during a past break from school. By making notes about how long it takes to recover a skill after a break, parents can contribute important data. Sharing that information earlier in the school year is ideal, so there is ample time for a review of data and any additional testing. Attendance information also is helpful because some disabilities create illness conditions that keep a child out of school long enough to fall significantly behind.

The school and family discuss whether the lost skills and extra time required to regain them is likely to create a significant barrier to progress toward IEP goals and learning in the future. This will justify whether recoupment is required to reverse or prevent regression.

The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) has an article about ESY and lists the following as evidence that a school might consider:

  • Documented problems with working memory from assessments
  • Demonstrated need for constant reinforcement over time, even during the regular instructional day/year
  • History from a previous year of losing skills and struggling to regain them after a school break
  • Need for constant reinforcement of a behavior support program when a student is at risk of being moved to a more restrictive environment without substantial progress around behavior

What does LRE have to do with ESY?

Special Education has Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) as a primary feature. In accordance with the IDEA, a school district is responsible to provide instruction in the least restrictive setting to the maximum extent appropriate.

Accommodations and supports are provided to allow for LRE. Therefore, LRE is part of the school’s obligation to FAPE (see definition above). For some students, routine is paramount. Parents and teachers can discuss whether a break in routine might jeopardize the student’s ability to remain in the current classroom/placement. If yes, then ESY might be needed for the student to continue accessing school in the Least Restrictive Environment.

Parent participation is also a foundational principle of the IDEA. Parents who disagree with school decisions have the right to dispute those decisions. PAVE has an article about Procedural Safeguards and options when families and schools disagree.

Which students might be eligible for ESY?

ESY is not mandated for all students with disabilities and is not required for the convenience of the school or a parent who might need respite or daycare. There are no federal regulations on ESY eligibility. DREDF, a parent-information center in Berkeley, Calif., lists standards established by a range of legal rulings:  

  • Regression/Recoupment: Likelihood of regression or anticipating that it will take a long time to get a skill back can make a child eligible for ESY. A student doesn’t have to fully lose a skill or experience a long delay in recovering the skill to qualify.
  • Degree of Progress toward IEP Goals: Very slow progress toward IEP goals can meet criteria for ESY. Trivial progress toward goals does not meet the standard of FAPE, as established by a 2017 supreme court ruling.
  • Nature and/or Severity of Disability: Determination is not limited to a specific category of disability. However, students with more severe disabilities are more likely to be involved in ESY programs because their regression and recoupment time are likely to be greater than students with less severe disabilities.
  • Emerging Skills/Breakthrough Opportunities: If a critical life skill is not completely mastered or acquired, ESY services may ensure that the current level of skill is not lost over a break. A few examples of critical life skills: beginning to communicate, learning to read or write, self-care. 
  • Interfering Behaviors: Some students receive positive behavior support as part of the IEP. When considering ESY, the IEP team would determine whether interruption of such programming would jeopardize the student receiving FAPE.
  • Special Circumstances: Sometimes there are special circumstances that prevent a student from learning within the regular school schedule. Districts have different definitions of what constitutes a special circumstance. Parents can ask for a copy of district policy and refer to WAC 392-172A-02020.

No sole factor determines whether a student qualifies for ESY. IEP teams review a variety of data, including informed predictions about what is likely to happen in future based on past experiences. A student who has received ESY in a previous year is not automatically entitled to those services again, and a student who wasn’t eligible in the past is not automatically denied.

Summary and Additional Resources

Some students require special education and related services longer than the regular school year in order to receive FAPE. ESY can minimize regression, so a child can catch up or recoup those skills. Parents who have concerns can discuss eligibility criteria with the IEP team. The sooner ESY is discussed, the sooner data can be collected and reviewed. Parent may need time to consider all options and to collaborate with the school.

As part of its Model Forms, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a downloadable document that IEP teams can fill out and attach to the IEP when a student qualifies for ESY services. To access the PDF directly: Extended School Year (ESY) addendum.

A website called Great Schools.org provides additional information about ESY and downloadable forms about IDEA requirements.

Wrightslaw.com provides information about the IDEA and legal findings on a variety of topics.

Get SMART About Tracking Progress and Updating Goals with Your IEP Team

Holiday break is a good time to check on your student’s progress in school. You can take another look at the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and compare the goals to current progress. If you don’t have a current progress reports on IEP goals, mid-year is a good time to ask school staff to provide them.

If you don’t believe the student’s progress is on track, you can request an IEP team meeting to discuss the program and what might need to change. If you request an IEP meeting that isn’t a required annual review, you can formalize your request with a letter that describes your reason. Concern about progress toward goals might be why you want to meet. PAVE has a letter template to help with your written request.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that schools provide students who are eligible for special education services with access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The Supreme Court  in 2017 determined that in order to meet the requirements of FAPE, schools must provide students with opportunities to make meaningful progress toward IEP goals. Schools also must provide clear explanation for their decisions about services, according to federal standards.

An acronym that can help you determine whether the annual goals in your student’s IEP are appropriately robust is SMART. PAVE provides a handout to help you use this acronym when participating in the IEP process.

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Achievable

R = Relevant

T = Time-Bound

Goals are based on educational evaluations, which determine where a student is strong and needs more help. The data from an evaluation will help the IEP team write statements called Present Levels of Performance (PLOP), and these statements form the basis for goal-setting and program design.

As you review goals you might think about your student’s placement—the locations where education is provided. The IDEA requires students receive education in the Least Restrictive Environment to the maximum extent appropriate. A student’s lack of progress might be related to where the student is placed. This could be a topic for the IEP team to discuss when goals are reviewed.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which oversees all school districts in Washington State, provides a variety of “model forms,” guidance documents for schools and families, including a downloadable “Parent Input Form” that can help you makes notes to share with the IEP team.

For additional resources about IEP goals, you can visit the following websites:

Parent Center Hub.org

Understood.org

IEP Goal Tracker from Understood.org

OSPI Special Education Guidance for Families