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The ABCs of ESY (Extended School Year)

Date: June 22, 2010

By: Joshua M. Kershenbaum, Esq. of Frankel & Kershenbaum, LLC
An abbreviated version of this article appeared in MetroKids® Magazine, May 2010

When I was a teacher, we used to call summer vacation “The Great Eraser of the Mind.” Retaining skills over long breaks can be challenging for anyone. But for many children with special needs, a summer without school can cause devastating, and sometimes permanent setbacks, not only academically, but also behaviorally, socially and emotionally. Our federal and state special education laws recognize that your child’s disability does not take vacations and neither does her School District’s obligation to provide her with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  As parents, we need to understand the laws related to Extended School Year services so that we can be effective advocates for our children all year round.

What is Extended School Year (ESY)?

The federal Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) defines Extended School Year services as “special education and related services that are provided to a child with a disability beyond the normal school year . . . in accordance with the child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), and at no cost to the parents[.]” 34 CFR 300.309(b).  Simply put, if you child has an IEP, her IEP team must determine each year whether she needs to continue receiving services from the school beyond the typical 180 day school year.
A common myth about ESY is that it only applies to summer vacation. This is false. Some children with special needs require services before or after the regular school day, or over other school vacations.  Remember, the I in IEP is Individualized.  This means that schools cannot impose “blanket” limits on the types of ESY services they provide, such as “only over the summer” or “never before school.” Another common myth is that all children with IEPs are legally entitled to ESY services. This is also false.  Again, eligibility depends on the special needs of the individual student.

Is Your Child with Special Needs Eligible for Extended School Year services?

IDEA does not tell us how to determine which children with IEPs are eligible for ESY services; that job is left to the states.  But no matter what state you live in, a few things are universal:

 

  • There is no one-size-fits-all rule for determining eligibility for ESY services;
  • IEP teams must consider many factors; and
  • The Team must base the decision on the individual special needs of your child.
Pennsylvania:

In Pennsylvania, a student’s eligibility for ESY services must be considered at every IEP meeting.  And while no single factor can be considered determinative, the team must consider each of the following:
  • Regression: Will the student revert to a lower level of functioning because of an interruption in educational programming?
  • Recoupment: Can the student recover those skills to a level demonstrated prior to the interruption of programming?
  • Will the program interruption occur when the student is on the verge of mastering an important skill or behavior?
  • Will the interruption interfere with the student’s ability to gain a skill or behavior that is crucial for attaining self-sufficiency and independence from caretakers?
  • Will an interruption in programming result in the student’s withdrawal from the learning process?
  • Is the student’s disability severe, such as autism/pervasive developmental disorder, serious emotional disturbance, severe mental retardation, degenerative impairments with mental involvement and severe multiple disabilities?
Pennsylvania law also makes clear that the need for ESY services shall not be based on:
  • The desire or need for day care or respite care services;
  • The desire or need for a summer recreation program, or
  • The desire or need for other programs or services that are not required to ensure the provision of a free appropriate public education.

See 22 Pa. Code § 14.132.

New Jersey:


Under New Jersey law, ESY services must be provided in accordance with the student’s IEP when, “An interruption in educational programming would cause the student’s performance to revert to a lower level of functioning and recoupment cannot be expected in a reasonable length of time.” Rather than list specific factors that the IEP Team must consider, New Jersey’s ESY law simply states that “the IEP team shall consider all relevant factors in determining the need for an extended school year program” and that “the district . . . shall not limit extended school year services to particular categories of disability or limit the type, amount, or duration of those services.” See N.J.A.C. 6A:14-4.3(c).
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