The acronym “ESY” stands for “Extended School Year” (ESY), and it is an educational accommodation that is available to the special education students who qualify for it. An extended school year is an offering of educational services that extend beyond the standard academic year. The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to make ESY available to students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IDEA is a federal law mandating that all children with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education.

A student’s IEP is the vehicle that ensures their access to the general education curriculum and, thus, to a free and appropriate public education. The IDEA requires that an IEP contain a statement of measurable annual academic goals for a student. It should also include functional goals, as well as academic goals.

In the IEP, the child’s school must provide a description of how it will measure the student’s progress toward meeting their annual goals and when it will provide progress reports to parents. The legislation specifies that services recommended for a student with an IEP be based on peer-reviewed research.

If a parent is concerned about their child’s performance in school and thinks the child would benefit from an IEP, they can ask that their child be assessed. There is no charge for this service. The child would be assessed by specialists in the school system, which may include the following personnel:

  • A psychologist;
  • A physical therapist and/or an occupational therapist to assess motor skill issues;
  • A speech therapist;
  • Vision or hearing specialist;
  • Special education teacher;
  • A language educator who speaks the language of the child if their primary language is not English;
  • Any other specialists who might be needed to evaluate the child’s needs

An IEP team is established which would include the child’s parents, teachers at the child’s school who are familiar with the child and others who may provide necessary services to the child, e.g. a speech therapist. Together the team devised the child’s IEP. In developing the child’s IEP, the IEP team is required to consider:

  • The child’s strengths;
  • The parent’s concerns for enhancing the child’s education;
  • The results of the initial evaluation or most recent evaluation;
  • The child’s academic, developmental, and functional needs;.

The IEP team also takes into consideration special factors for the child, such as the following:

  • Whether their behavior impedes learning;
  • Whether they have limited English proficiency;
  • Whether the child is blind or visually impaired or deaf or hard of hearing.

Parents are vitally important members of their child’s IEP team, especially when it comes to deciding on the child’s placement. The placement decision cannot be made until after the members of the IEP team, including the parents, agree on the child’s needs, program, and goals. A student might continue in their neighborhood school if their needs can be met there. Or, it might be necessary for a child to go to an alternative school to meet their needs.

A child’s IEP must be reviewed at least once a year to determine if the child is achieving their annual goals. The IEP team must revise the IEP to address:

  • Any lack of expected progress;
  • Results of any reevaluation;
  • Information provided by the parents;
  • Anticipated needs.

Is ESY Available to All Students with Disabilities?

An ESY opportunity is not required by federal or state law to be made available to all students with disabilities. Rather, whether a student with a disability needs ESY is determined on a case-by-case basis. A parent can refuse ESY services even if their child is eligible, if they do not want their child to attend, or if it simply does not work for their summer schedule.

How Is Eligibility for ESY Determined?

The requirements for eligibility for ESY vary from state to state. The most common method of determining eligibility relies on an evaluation of a student’s IEP objectives. The IEP team, consisting of a student’s parents, teachers, administrators and other interested parties, typically determines whether ESY would help the student achieve their IEP objectives.

When Is ESY Needed?

ESY is needed in cases in which a student is expected to experience substantial regression in learning skills and difficulty regaining those skills if the extended program is not provided. All students experience academic regression during extended breaks from school and ESY is designed to help special education maintain their academic attainment during long disruptions.

By law, ESY is supposed to offer special education students an academic experience that is:

  • Specialized;
  • Intensive;
  • Includes related services that the student may need, such as occupation or speech-language therapy;
  • Tailored according to the student’s IEP.

Extended school year services are not the same as summer school or educational enrichment programs offered through the school system. The goal of standard summer school programs is to remediate all children who have not met state academic standards by the end of the academic year. ESY is supposed to support special needs children in working towards their IEP objectives. Although ESY programs generally take place during the summer break, they can also be offered during other extended breaks.

What Factors Do Schools Consider in Deciding Whether to Offer an ESY?

Schools consider several factors when determining a student’s eligibility for ESY. These factors include:

  • The severity of the student’s disability. Students with more severe disabilities are more likely to regress and have a more difficult time in the next academic year;
  • The student’s age;
  • The degree of a student’s self-sufficiency and whether they do better with strong support;
  • Emerging skills. A student with a disability may suffer significant regression if they are in the process of learning a new skill, such as reading, when the school year ends;
  • Interfering behavior. A student who suffers from behavioral problems that interfere with their ability to learn, may need ESY to ensure that they do not regress and resume some negative behavior. Or, ESY may serve such a student’s needs, because they need continuing reinforcement of positive behaviors to maintain gains;
  • If the student is close to a making significant step forward in learning;
  • If progress has stalled in progressing toward a specific IEP goal;
  • If the child needs to continue learning a vital skill related to their self-sufficiency and independence.

What Kinds of Programs Does ESY Provide?

ESY provides a great range of programs that may help a special education student maintain their learning and achieve their goals. Some of the most common types of programs include:

  • Summer school in a special education classroom;
  • Home consultation to help parents learn how to provide academic support and prevent regression;
  • Summer camp with an emphasis on maintaining learning and behavioral goals;
  • Private school programs if the public school cannot provide some specialized services that a student may need.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you have questions or concerns about your child and ESY, you may want to speak with a government lawyer. A special education lawyer is familiar with the IDEA and the process of developing a student’s IEP and assessing ESY needs. They can help you negotiate with your local school administration to make sure that your child is getting the right ESY opportunity for their needs and can help you protect your child’s rights.