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As the school year winds down, many parents are left wondering what they can do so that their child can continue their individualized education plan (IEP) during the summer months. It can be hard to find available resources and decide which one is right for your child. If your child receives special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), he or she may be eligible for a special education program that goes beyond the school year.


Extended School Year services, or ESY, are special education services that help children with disabilities maintain the skills they've developed during the school year.1 ESY provides extra support for students during summer months so they do not regress or lose what they have learned in school. These services are distinct from day care, summer school, or any other enrichment programs, even they provide some educational benefit. Unlike these other programs, ESY services are a part of the IEP process, must meet the standards of the State Educational Agency (SEA), and are required to ensure the provision of free appropriate public education (FAPE) to a student.


The child's school is the primary decision maker when it comes to qualifications for ESY. As part of the annual review of a child's IEP, the school will consider their need for ESY. The IDEA, the federal special education law, states that all local educational agencies (LEAs) must provide ESY services for students that need them to allow easy access to free, appropriate public education (FAPE). However, it is important to keep in mind that ESY is not guaranteed for all students who have IEPs. IDEA lets each state or school decide its own rules for eligibility, which means that standards will vary from school to school.

The local school district will assist the IEP team to determine the procedures for ESY services. Importantly, the school district is not allowed to postpone the decision regarding ESY services until after the summer in order to determine what would happen if the services are not provided. The IEP team must make a decision regarding ESY services before the end of the school year to ensure that parents can exercise their due process rights if they want to challenge the decision. ESY services cannot be limited to a set number of days or hours. Furthermore, schools are not allowed to restrict the availability of services based on financial resources or administrative convenience. Services can't be denied to students who need them in order to receive FAPE, and the school cannot limit services based on predetermined disability categories or exclude certain students with disabilities. These protections in place for students with IEPs can hopefully provide some peace of mind for families as they look to the school year ahead and the consider how to keep a child cognitively engaged in the intervening summer.

In order to determine if a child needs ESY services, the school's IEP team must decide whether the skills a child gained during the school year will be significantly jeopardized if the child does not receive ESY. To do this, the team reviews data collected throughout the school year, as well as any input from teachers, parents, and other members of the IEP team. Indicators may include progress toward a child's goal on consecutive IEPs, progress reports from teachers and therapists, reports from parents of any changes in adaptive behavior or other skills, observations and opinions by all, and test results from criterion-referenced tests, curriculum-based assessments, or ecological life skills assessments.

The IEP team will take into account several factors to determine if a child is eligible for ESY services. Even though a child may be eligible by meeting just one of the criteria, no single factor on its own can be used as a determinant – all must be considered together by the IEP team. One such way is to evaluate if the student is likely to lose critical skills (regression) during a break and, if so, whether the time the student takes to re-learn the lost skills (recoupment), is excessive. The IEP team will also consider the nature and severity of the student's disability, the rate of progress, self-sufficiency and independence, the availability of alternative resources, and the areas of curriculum which need continuous attention. The IEP team with assess and weigh each of these dimensions of a student's developmental profile to reach a decision about ESY eligibility.

"With an Extended School Year plan and supports in place, families can finish out the school year with the confidence that their children's learning and skill development don't have to stall once summer begins."

Parents may wonder what happens if they find themselves at odds with the IEP team's decision. If the IEP team and the parents can't agree on the eligibility of the child, or on the type or format of ESY services that is most appropriate, the school district will issue a Notice of Educational Placement/Prior Written Notice (NOREP/PWN) along with the Procedural Safeguards Notice to the parents explaining the IEP team's decision. If the parents still disagree with the decision, they can then respond to the NOREP/PWN with a letter addressing their concerns and requesting another meeting, mediation services, or a due process hearing. While this sounds daunting, there are resources that offer support and guidance for parents along the way (see references and resources at the conclusion of the article).


When determining the correct ESY service for a child, the IEP team will consider what kind of setting and service delivery model is best for them. There are quite a few options when making a decision, and the service will not necessarily be a continuation of the same program and related services that the child receives during the normal school year. ESY options may include parents and teacher working together, home-based programs, group programs, schoolbased programs, cooperative programs with other agencies, multisystem shared programs, and community-based programs. Qualified ESY service providers will then take the lead on implementing a student's individualized program.


With the school year coming to close, there is still time to prepare for the potential opportunities that ESY can provide. You may find reassurance in talking with your child's teachers now to review which ESY services are right for your child and address any concerns you might have. With an ESY plan and supports in place, families can finish out the school year with the confidence that their children's learning and skill development don't have to stall once summer begins. •


Parents play a crucial role in deciding whether ESY is necessary for their child. There are a few things they can do to prepare for ESY and ESY meetings. Below are some recommendations from ESY experts:

bIt's a good idea to obtain a copy of the ESY determination guidelines issued by your school district or state, familiarize yourself with the guidelines, and ask any questions you might have.

bCollect data that showcases your child's progress throughout the year by keeping a record of their improvement and regression.

bMake a list of factors that you think should be taken into consideration when determining your child's need for ESY services.

bRefer to the criteria on the guidelines sheet and take your list with you when meeting with the IEP team. This will help the IEP team create the best ESY program for your child.

bIt is recommended that ESY service providers submit a report regarding the child's progress to their teacher for the upcoming school year. Feel free to speak up and request copies of these reports.

bDon't wait until the last minute to discuss the potential need for ESY services during the break. Meet with your child's teachers and therapists, both in and out of school, in order to gain more feedback and written recommendations from them for ESY services. If necessary, you can request a meeting specifically for the purpose of determining ESY eligibility, or bring it up at your next meeting with the IEP team. The earlier you bring it up, the better prepared you will be.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lillian Duffield is an Administrative Assistant at Genetic Alliance, where she provides administrative support to key team leaders. She has a background in media, event coordination, web design and photography. Lily graduated from Goucher College with a B.A. in Communications with a concentration in Journalism and a minor in Political Science.