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ESY Defined

ESY, one of the many special education abbreviations parents of children with special needs must learn, stands for Extended School Year. What does that mean? Knowing the basics of the ESY section of the IDEA law will help you work proactively with your local school system to get the best education for your child. Let’s start with what ESY is not.

ESY is not summer school. Summer school programs are designed to remediate all children, special needs and typical children alike, who are not meeting state academic criteria at the end of the school year.

The Extended School Year is specifically for children aged three and up who:

  1. have an IEP in place
  2. are likely to lose the bulk of what they’ve learned throughout the past year with a long break from school.
  3. are likely to regress during a break from related services such as speech therapy, behavior programs, or occupational therapy.

If you think your child falls into one or more of the above categories, you have the right to request that ESY be included in their IEP (Individualized Education Plan). The earlier you request this service the more likely it is that your child will be screened and accepted in a timely manner. If your child is denied ESY, you have the right to request a new meeting with the IEP team or a mediator. Educating yourself about your state’s specific ESY laws as well as your local school district’s ESY programs will help you work effectively on behalf of your child. Follow this link to learn about ESY details in your state.

What does an Extended School Year program look like?

There is no such thing as a “typical” ESY. Because it is part of your child’s IEP, it is individualized to best meet your child’s needs (different for every child). Generally speaking, ESY programs run for several weeks during the summer. They are usually 4-5 hours a day and from 3-5 days each week.

It’s important to remember that ESY is not only about academics. Children with special needs who are learning life skills throughout the regular year are prone to regression during long school breaks. The same holds true for children who require specialized therapies such as speech, occupational, physical or behavioral. Your school district may provide these services on site or they may pay for private services.

When the Extended School Year portion of IDEA was added in 2005, it contained no allowance for funding on a national level. Some states offer full funding for ESY programs, others offer partial funding and still others leave it entirely to each school district. In all cases, due to lack of money, Extended School Year programs are run as tightly as possible. If your child does not meet your state’s exact criteria you may have to work hard to get ESY added to their IEP. This is why it is important for you to keep your own records of your child’s progress (including any regressions you note after school breaks) in addition to the school’s records and assessments. Because of the shortage of funding and resources for ESY, it can be difficult to attain the service unless your child has a severe disability. Difficult but, not impossible.

Yes, the Extended School Year can present quite a challenge. Your best defense is to educate yourself by networking with local support groups, using the incredible amount of knowledge shared on the internet, and by doing your own research before making any decisions. If you are new to working with the public school system, get to know as many people in your child’s school and in the school district in general as you can. Volunteer at the school and/or through the PTA. Remember how your mom told you that you catch more flies with honey? She was right. Even when you are struggling with the bureaucracy, a polite, businesslike approach is more apt to reap a positive outcome. (Yes, this is much easier to read than it is to actually do – but give it a shot!)

What if your child doesn’t qualify for ESY?

If, in the end your child does NOT qualify for ESY… keep in mind there are a variety of alternatives. Private Special Needs Tutoring has exploded throughout the United States as a way to make up gaps left by the school. Special education tutors can either work with curriculum provided by the school, or create curriculum based specifically on your child’s needs. Tutoring as a profession is older than sliced bread. In the past, you drove your child to meet the tutor at a public place (or business), or allowed them into your home. With today’s technological advancements, tutoring can be conducted 100% online from the comfort of your own home (or wherever is comfortable)!

In addition to tutoring, millions of Special Education Resources are available online, and can be especially useful for parents attempting to “figure this all out” for the first time! Facebook groups and local communities are also a great source of information and can even help navigate you through the stress (because they’ve been there before).

Children change every single day. Thus, needing ESY and additional special education resources will fluctuate annually. Communicate constantly with others on the IEP team. Keep them up-to-date as any changes come about during the summer months (or at home throughout the school year). Demand that the teachers and administrators do the same. Most importantly, as you learn, share your knowledge and help others when they start on this journey. It’s tough to feel alone, and it’s important to know that you’re not! Millions of families currently deal with… or have dealt with ESY.

It cannot be said often enough: You are your child’s best advocate. When stress levels rise, and the going gets tough… remember, you know your child better than anyone in the school system (and in the world for that matter)! NEVER back down, never give up and know your child’s rights! Ask questions and don’t be afraid to stir the pot.