Extended School Year (ESY) planning is now underway, as parents and teachers meet with Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams to assess progress over the past year and discuss summer curriculum. One of the least understood components of the IEP is how qualification for ESY services is determined. Most parents think that ESY is only given to prevent a student from regressing over summer vacation.
While it is true that some students need a prolonged school year to keep the knowledge they acquire intact, not every child receiving ESY needs it for regression only. Most students will forget some measure of information when it’s not used for a period of time. However, once an individual becomes reacquainted with the original coursework, “catching up” is usually done rapidly. Some students need ESY for recoupment, which is designed for those students who cannot recover skills in the fall within a reasonable time.
Ideally, ESY should take into account the age and skill of the student, as well as the nature and severity of the disability. Emerging or breakthrough opportunities must be evaluated, and the decision to extend the school year should be made with the goal of taking advantage of the individual child’s window of opportunity for mastering that particular skill. We need to remember that these “windows of opportunity” are not limited to educational goals; occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech services can also be better addressed by availing oneself of the opportunities present with an ESY option.
The decision to take advantage of an ESY designation is not one that should be made unilaterally. Often, a single point person is not in an ideal position to determine the best interest of the student. The IEP team should make this decision and examine all of the criteria to come to an informed consensus.
As a parent, how can one advocate for their child to encourage a needed ESY designation in his or her IEP?
- First, advocate for an ESY accommodation well before the end of the school year. The more time available for getting referrals and planning a course of action, the more likely it is to be a consideration.
- Second, the IEP team should be asked to take the following questions into consideration:
- Does the student have issues with working memory,
- Are there problems with requiring continual reinforcement of skills,
- And finally, are there behaviors that intervene with learning?
- Third, don’t rely on the school to make the proper decision to include ESY. The school is legally obligated to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), but it is also obligated to pay for any services. This may put the school in a conflicting situation, unless the appropriate parties are made to fully appreciate the need for the ESY for the particular student.
The parent, then, becomes the most important advocate for enabling the district to comprehend how vital this need is to the student’s future success, self-sufficiency and educational access.
Starting early in the process can be advantageous if ESY services are denied. This way, a parent still has time to contest the decision before summer starts. If the decision is at the end of the school year, it may be too late to challenge it and reach a solution during the summer. Here, the early bird does get the worm.
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