A child sits on a bench reading a book during the summer.
Exceptional Lives Community Member
May 25, 2023

ESY (Extended School Year) for Special Education students: What parents need to know

Learn about the Extended School Year for special education students, and how your child could get extra services during the summer.

The end of the school year is often  met with mixed emotions. It can be a time of excitement for students because they no longer have to wake up every morning to go to school. They get a break from schoolwork and have all summer to have fun and do what they want to do. It also gives parents a break because they don’t have to make sure their kids make it to school on time or stress about homework and test scores. 

Yet for many parents of students with disabilities, the start of summer can also be a time of concern. This is because many parents worry that being away from school during the summer months will hurt their student’s academic progress. And in fact, learning losses during the summer are common, especially for students in families with economic insecurity. To address this concern, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to provide an extended school year for special education students if a student needs it to get a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). ESY services can prevent a child from losing the skills they have built during the school year…and ease their parents’ concern.

Understanding ESY: Extended School Year for students with disabilities 

Extended School Year Services, also known as ESYS or ESY, are  extra weeks of special education service during the summer months after the regular school year has ended. ESY services are available to all students with an IEP who qualify for them. The purpose of ESY is to help students maintain certain skills addressed in the IEP during the school year. The services are optional and are offered free of charge, along with transportation. ESY services are based on the needs of the student and are usually offered through a variety of methods. The school district decides the physical location where ESY services will be provided. It is important to understand that ESY services may not be done at the student’s regular school, or with their usual special ed teachers and providers.

There are often misconceptions about the purpose of extended school year services for students with disabilities, so it is important that you have a clear understanding. ESY services are to help students maintain certain skills addressed in the IEP during the school year. The services may not address every goal and objective listed in the IEP, but they will try to address areas where the student may lose skills over the summer.

ESY services are not meant as a substitute for childcare, nor are they meant to act as a summer camp for students. They are not used to develop new IEP goals and objectives for the summer months. And they are certainly not used to make up time for absences from school during the year.  

Who Can Qualify for Extended School Year Services?

All students with an IEP must be considered for extended school year services, but not every student with an IEP is eligible. Each state sets the criteria that are used to determine if a student qualifies for ESY services. A student’s qualification is determined annually and may vary from year to year. Like all IEP team decisions, a student’s qualification for ESY services is made based on student data. If a student qualifies for ESY in one area, it doesn’t mean they will qualify in all areas. For example, a student could qualify for ESY services to address academic IEP goals but not qualify to address adapted physical education goals. 

A student’s performance on IEP goals and objectives is monitored during the school year. Teachers and related service providers collect data regularly to monitor student progress. The data collected should be specific and give a clear picture of the student’s progress toward mastering IEP goals and objectives. Data that they review for this purpose may include IEP progress reports, report cards, current IEP, graded assignments, work samples, test scores, and other data the IEP team believes is important. Many different factors are considered when reviewing student data to determine qualification.  It is important to talk to your child’s school to understand your state’s criteria for qualifying for ESY services. If your child does not qualify , you have the right to appeal the decision. You should contact your child’s school and notify them of your decision to appeal. 

Why It’s Important to Allow Your Child to Attend Extended School Year Services

If your child qualifies for ESY  services, it means they need these services to prevent them from backsliding–losing skills–during the summer.  It’s an important part of their education and it would be wise to let your child attend. It is important to remember the services are free and transportation should be provided. The summer months are long, and without continued academic support and structure, many students can experience a slower start to the next school year. Attending ESY services can help students maintain important skills needed to be ready and prepared for the next school year. Being prepared can help students, parents, teachers, and related service providers to have a stronger and smoother start to the school year. The supports provided are not limited to IEP goals that address academic skills such as ELA and math. If qualified, your child can get support during the summer to address related services such as speech or occupational therapy. 

If your child has IEP goals and objectives that address social or emotional skills, it is especially important that your child attends ESY, if qualified. Social skills help your child to interact and communicate with others in an appropriate way which helps them to develop and maintain healthy relationships with adults, peers, and other people they may come in contact with. The classroom and school environment are places where your child learns and develops those skills by interacting with others. When students with social or emotional IEP goals are away from the school environment during the summer months, they could see a decline in the development of those skills. That decline could cause a noticeable change in your child’s mood, social behavior, ability to communicate and interact with others. All of those factors can impact your child’s overall mental health, and their ability to make continued progress in school.

How Parents Can Communicate with the School and be Involved in the ESY Process

Communication between the home and school is very important, even when it comes to understanding the criteria to qualify for ESY services. It is important for you to know the goals and objectives in the IEP, and how they will be monitored by the teacher and related service providers. You should also know the criteria used to determine if your child qualifies for ESY. 

You should monitor your child’s progress data and collaborate with the service providers throughout the school year to ensure that everyone has the same understanding of your child’s progress. This is especially important if you notice a difference in your child’s performance after school vacations, or after the summer months. If your child loses skills when not in school, it means they should qualify for ESY. Document any signs of learning loss–not just after the summer, but throughout the school year. 

If your child does not qualify for extended school year services, you can be proactive and spend time during the summer working with them on the goals and objectives in their IEP. It would be a good idea to document the skills addressed and work done during the summer, and share this with the service providers at the beginning of the school year. If you see that your child struggles with skills during the summer months, you should have a conversation with the service providers at the beginning of the school year about the challenges faced during the summer. You could then work with the providers closely throughout the school year to monitor progress and data collection, with the possibility that your child may meet the criteria to qualify for ESY services next year.

  • Pamela White, Ed.S.

    Special Education Program Facilitator

    Pamela White is an Education Specialist who has worked with individuals with disabilities for almost 15 years. She facilitates special education programs for a Louisiana school district and serves as an Educator in Residence for the PROGRESS Center at The American Institute for Research. She is passionate about establishing high expectations for students with disabilities, developing reading skills, teaching with intention, and educators implementing high-leverage practices.

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