ESY – Extended School Year For Special Education the Ultimate Guide

Extended School Year For Special Education

Believe it or not… a TON of information is lost during long school breaks…

I know, that may come across as a shocker!

To help battle this “brain drain” for children with special needs, ESY (an acronym for extended school year) is available… but often challenging to get into!

Knowing the basics will help you work proactively with your local school system to get the best education for your child. 


What is ESY in Special Education?

An extended school year is just like it sounds – educational services extend beyond the average school year. It is written into law in a section of IDEA

IDEA is federal legislation that mandates all children with disabilities have access to Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Types of Special Education Services Under FAPE include, but are not limited to;

  • Specialized Equipment
  • Modification Of The Learning Environment
  • Guided Assistance Throughout The Day

Special education services are designed to support a child’s individual needs of their social and academic function during a typical school day.

An extended school year allows a child to maintain the same educational standards as when school is in session. This helps the child progress past certain obstacles and prevents them from relearning the information once school starts again.


Understand Special Education Law

While most people working in the public school system are there because they want to help all children, they are not legal experts.

 Do not rely on school employees as your only source of advice. Do the research yourself. What you learn may surprise you.

 Educating yourself about your state’s specific ESY laws and your local school district’s ESY programs will help you work effectively on behalf of your child.


ESY Versus Summer Regression

First, an important note here is that the Extended School Year services are not the same as summer school…

These services are;

  • Specialized,
  • Intensive Instruction
  • Related Services
  • ALL Part Of An IEP

Extended school year services are not the same as summer school or educational enrichment programs offered through the school system.

Summer school programs are to remediate all children not meeting state academic criteria at the end of the school year. This includes typical children and special needs children. 

Though mainly used for summer breaks, this special education program can also be provided during other extended breaks.

ESY can occur outside of the days of a school year or the hours of a school day and can include shorter school breaks, such as spring or winter break.


Who is eligible for the Extended School Year Program? 

For a child to receive qualification for an ESY, it must be outlined in the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).

The Extended School Year services must be defined in the child’s IEP before enrollment in the program can begin.

IDEA law says the program is specifically for children aged three and up who:

  • Have an IEP in place
  • Are likely to lose the bulk of what they’ve learned throughout the past year with a long break from school.
  • They 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 your child will be screened and accepted promptly. If your child is denied ESY, you have the right to request a new meeting with the IEP team or a mediator. 


Who decides if my child qualifies for this special education program to be on their IEP? 

It is the job of your child’s IEP team to figure out if your child will benefit from this special education program. IDEA allows each state and school district to set its own eligibility rules…

So depending on the location, the eligibility requirements may vary. But IDEA states that schools can not limit ESY services to any student. 

Qualified professionals will determine if a child’s needs qualify for extended school year services while creating the IEP. 

Factors of Eligibility

  • Degree of the child’s impairment or disability
  • Availability of resources
  • Child’s rate of educational progress
  • Emerging Skills/Opportunities- Could the break cause significant problems for the student who is learning a critical skill
  • How much structure is provided in the home environment by parents or guardians
  • The child’s occupational or physical needs
  • Any behavioral issues
  • Recoupment (the time needed to relearn skills)
  • IEP Goals/Objectives Progression
  • Any special circumstances

The school must have documented proof of a child’s regression to begin Extended School Year services and the child’s previous history.

  • Has their learning regressed in previous grades or schools?
  • Is this a continuing pattern?

Of course, all children don’t retain everything they learn. But the degree of regression must be severe for your child with special needs to participate in the extended school year.

The IEP team will test your child’s regression at different times of the year to determine what skills have been lost and which ones need to be worked on. 


light bulb with symbols representing learning


3 Signs That Your Child Would Benefit From ESY

#1 Loss of information

If you dread your child’s return to school after an extended break from school because you know they will be coming home frustrated and defeated. 

Frustration may stem from them not remembering the math/reading/other subject material that they knew at the beginning of the break, a discussion of ESY is in order. 

#2 Missed opportunities

If your child seems to be on the verge of making an educational or behavioral breakthrough right before an extended break, ESY can help. 

When there is a learning disability involved, these “A-ha moments” can be harder to predict and may not come at the same pace as kids not facing similar challenges.

ESY can help your child achieve these essential milestones without a long delay.

#3 Behavioral backsliding 

  • Does your child thrive on the routine and consistent positive reinforcement they receive in their classroom? 
  • Is this reflected in their behavior at home while school is in session?
  •  Is there a dramatic difference in behavior when your child returns to school after an extended break? 

The Extended School Year can also include physical and behavioral therapy when needed. 

What to do if you notice these signs of regression in your child?

It can be frustrating to see great strides happening in your child’s life, only to be followed by significant setbacks after a break. Talk to your IEP team about ESY.

Ideally, with your IEP team early in the school year. This allows you time to provide documentation and any other support you need. 

However, if you’re off to a late start, there is a chance your child will not be able to get enrolled into ESY for the upcoming summer break.

If this happens, work within your budget to do what you can to help your child maintain progress. As you do this, plan for next year. 

Bring up ESY at your first IEP meeting, and don’t give up. If you do your research and back up your arguments with case law from your state, you will be successful.


What does an ESY program at school look like?

There is no such thing as a “typical” ESY program. Because it is part of your child’s IEP, it is individualized to best meet your child’s needs, which are different for every child. 

An ESY program for a child with autism may look completely different from a child with a vision or hearing impairment. 

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 learn life skills throughout the regular year are prone to regression during long school breaks. 

The same holds for children who require specialized therapies. Your school district may provide these services on-site, or they may pay for private services.

Your local school district may or may not offer services. Some districts contract services through nearby school districts or private services.


Extended School Year Available Services

The services through ESY vary based on the child’s limitations and specific needs but can include:

  • Behavioral Support
  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech-Language Therapy
  • Personal Coaching
  • Instructional Services
  • At-Home Information For Parental Implementation
  • Consultative Services

These are just a few of the extended school year program services. The services do not replicate the child’s special education services throughout the typical school day.

Nor are the services for learning new skills. Instead, it is to keep the ones already known, which goes a long way towards educational and lifelong success.

A school’s ESY standards vary from state to state. You can search through Wright’s Law blog for your state. 

Also, it’s essential to check with your local Board of Education to gain more insight into what services are available to a child with special needs in your local school district. 



Does ESY cost money? 

The Extended School Year is a component of the public school system and, therefore, is a free service mandated by law.

IDEA contains no allowance for funding on a national level. However, some states offer total funding for ESY programs, others offer partial funding, and others leave it entirely to each school district.

Because of the shortage of funding and resources for ESY, it can be challenging to attain the service unless your child has a severe disability. Difficult but not impossible.


What about ESY for behavior-related challenges?

ESY is beneficial to children with a wide range of learning challenges. But students who experience behavior-related changes during school breaks are at a very high risk of regression without ESY services. 


You also need to understand that regression and recoupment of skills are not the only criteria for getting your child ESY services. 

There are five basic questions (your state may have more) the team must answer:

  • Regression and Recoupment – Is there evidence that your child is likely to lose material learned in the previous school session and that your child will take much of the new school session to recoup that material?
  • Emerging skills/breakthrough opportunities – Is there evidence that your child is on the verge of learning a new skill or behavior that coincides with a school break? Will your child lose that opportunity without ESY?
  • Your child’s specific disability – School districts cannot deny a child ESY based on their particular challenges. Requests for ESY are on an individual basis.
  • Behaviors – Does your child exhibit interfering behaviors that prohibit them from receiving their education’s full benefits? Are the behaviors exacerbated after a break from school?
  • Progress – Is your child at risk of losing progress on goals explicitly outlined by their IEP?


For children with behavior-related challenges, achieving these goals can be challenging for schools and parents. 

Again, you need to keep your records and document your child’s behavior issues at home and school. 

Also, having your child thoroughly tested for physical and mental causes for various behaviors can be helpful. 

For example, an underlying learning disability can often trigger frustration, leading to escalating behavior problems. 

Getting to the heart of the problem will help everyone involved with your child’s education – most importantly, it will help your child. 

IDEA uses the broad term “behavior disorder” to cover a range of conditions. Knowing your child’s specific history will help the IEP team create the LRE that best suits your child.


How does your school handle behavioral disorders? 

Get to know your school’s specific policies for helping children with behavioral disorders. For example, study after study has shown that the following are far more effective than negative, reactive discipline – isolation, suspension, and expulsion. 


It’s within your right to ask to observe classrooms to see teachers using various techniques in real situations. 

Structure and routine are vitally important for children with behavior disorders. With proper documentation of your child’s history, you and your IEP team should be able to make a strong case for ESY services.

What if your school doesn’t add ESY to your child’s IEP?

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 you need to keep your own records of your child’s progress (including any regressions you note after school breaks) and the school’s records and assessments. 

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 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 the school district in general. Volunteer at the school and 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 bureaucracy, a polite, businesslike approach is more apt to reap a positive outcome. (Yes, this is much easier to read than it is to do – but give it a shot!)

Keep in mind that ESY is a year-by-year program. Therefore, you can reintroduce your concerns the following year.


What to do 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. 

Homeschool during extended breaks

Exploring special education homeschool resources might be worthwhile, depending on your child’s needs. Homeschool blogs and websites offer various tips for teaching and reinforcing information at home in a cost-effective way. 

If you are not confident in your ability to “homeschool” during extended breaks, you might consider special needs tutoring.

Get your child a special education tutor

Depending on your child’s needs, one-on-one guidance from a special education expert can make a massive impact! 

Sometimes (I would argue most of the time), it’s not your child’s fault they’re falling behind. The school cannot teach them the way they need to learn.  

From budget issues to teacher shortages… most schools around the country are in trouble. However, that’s an entirely different post!

Using a Private Special Needs Tutoring offers an affordable, individualized way to keep your child’s skills up during extended breaks from school. 

Special education tutors can either work with the curriculum provided by the school or create a curriculum explicitly based on your child’s needs.

 Tutoring as a profession is older than sliced bread. In the past, you had to to meet the tutor at a public place (or business), or allow 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)!

I have one last thing about special needs tutoring. This option may actually help your school district fulfill its legal requirements while giving your child the directed attention they need.

Find out more about online special education tutoring by discussing your needs with a special education expert (Free Consultation).

Learn more

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! 

If you are determined, you can find your own answers. It’s not that the people who seem to be the smartest are the smartest. Instead, they know how to research a topic to get their information. 

Doing research is a skill that anyone can learn. So bookmark this page about how to research anything to read later. 

 It takes you through the basic steps to help you find what you need most efficiently. Once you learn the steps, you’ll find information faster. 

Find Support

Facebook groups like our Special Ed Parenting community and local communities are also a great sources of information. Also, they can be of great help navigating you through the stress (because they’ve been there before).

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.

Collect and Record Everything

 If you haven’t yet, create a notebook pertaining solely to your child’s special education and IEP. A 2″ 3-ring binder works well. 

 When a school year ends, move the binder’s contents to a large, manila envelope and label it with dates and your child’s name. Then build a new notebook for the following year. 

 Divide the notebook into sections that make sense to you. Here are some suggestions. 


Organizing special education resources in IEP Binder including ESY and IEP meeting notes


 Organizing an IEP Binder 

  • Basic information – this part of your notebook will move from year to year. Include the members of your child’s IEP, teacher, and contact information. Also include information for other necessary school personnel – secretaries, counselors, teachers, etc.
  • Your child’s information includes copies of test results, doctor’s notes, past years’ performance assessments, etc.
  • IEP – a copy of your child’s IEP, extra paper to add notes and observations throughout the year.
  • ESY – print out basic information on ESY to refer to when dealing with the school district. Keep copies of any correspondence. Keep notes on your child’s school performance after short and extended breaks. Be sure to date everything.
  • Related – keep details about any therapies, special education tutoring or other activities your child is involved in – both inside and outside the public school system.
  • For more detailed instructions, refer to this helpful site.

Don’t Give UP! 

It cannot be said often enough: You are your child’s best advocate. So 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)! 

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 updated as any changes occur during the summer months (or at home throughout the school year). 

Demand that the teachers and administrators do the same. 

NEVER back down, never give up, and know your child’s rights! Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to stir the pot.

What if Extended School Year is not what is best for your child?

In special education, it can be easy to lose sight of the goal – helping every child receive the best education possible. 

 It can be easy to feel lost in the shuffle as you negotiate your way through the public school system as a parent. Sometimes specific special education programs are not what is best for your child. Like with anything else, you need to weigh the pros and cons of ESY. 

 Pros of ESY

  • If you have witnessed dramatic regression in your child’s studies, behavior, or areas where therapy is required, a solid extended school year program may help your child retain skills. It is essential to determine what specific type of program they offer in terms of location, duration, content, and instruction.
  • ESY can offer a summer routine that many children with disabilities thrive on.
  • This program is free of charge. 
  • ESY offers a chance for your child to focus on those things without the usual distractions at home.
  • It may provide a structured way for children to interact with their peers throughout the summer.


Cons of ESY

  • In school districts that are not well-funded, ESY programs can be weak and poorly staffed. As a result, children can come away from such programs further behind than when they started.
  • Consider how your child handles change. For example, it is rare for a child to get their regular teacher during ESY. Additionally, it is common practice for school districts to band together and combine their ESY programs. That could mean additional travel and a new environment.
  • Remember that the extended school year is a maintenance program with limited scope. It focuses solely on one or two specific goals laid out in your child’s IEP. ESY is not to help your child reach their full potential or get ahead.

Middle school students in the classroom for ESY.


ESY For Middle School Students

The move from elementary school to middle school is daunting for all students. However, students with special needs can find the transition particularly challenging.

For these students and their parents, the vast number of changes can be overwhelming. Ideally, you can start helping your child make the transition to middle school starting at the beginning of fifth grade.

Yes. Fifth grade.

Working with your child’s IEP  team, and making ESY a priority for the summer between elementary and middle school can go a long way to helping your child transition.

Children with special needs frequently find change difficult. Middle school encompasses several big changes such as:

  • A new campus
  • Multiple new teachers
  • Possibly navigating through multiple classrooms
  • Interacting with multiple levels of maturity among their school peers

Ensure you research different classroom options available to them. From Self-Contained Classrooms to Inclusion Classrooms, each allows for different comfort levels and child’s needs.

Try an arrange a tour of the school for yourself with the principal or a guidance counselor at the middle school. Use the time to tell them about your child and their challenges.

Ask to take pictures during the tour as well as for a map of the school and its grounds. Use the map and pictures to introduce your child to the school. If possible, arrange a tour that includes your child during a time when the school is relatively quiet.


3 Tips To Help You Prepare For ESY

#1 Ask about services during the initial IEP meeting 

This meeting includes educators, mental health professionals, therapists, and you. Therefore, it is the best time to request services since you will have everyone in attendance who can help you determine if ESY will be the correct course of action for your child.

Make sure you bring a list of determining factors to the meeting to let the school know why you would like your child to participate. Then, if need be, you can request a meeting during the school year to discuss ESY specifically.


#2 ESY is no different than regular school 

For children who require an extended school year, their peers may view them as “different.” Therefore, be sure to stress to your child that they are not in school during breaks because they are “bad” or “stupid.” 

ESY is not summer school or detention, and your child should know why they attend if they are old enough to ask. 

Give them the tools to be confident in their learning to take control of their own education.


#3 Tour the school with your child 

Even if they’ve been going to the school for a while, it will be nice to give your child the chance to see where ESY specifically will be held. 

Give them a chance to meet all special educators who will participate in their education so they are fully prepared when services begin. 

Let your child take a look at the schedule and possibly meet the other children who will also be participating. This will eliminate some of the anxiety so common before new experiences.

Wrapping it up…

Parenting a child with special needs can be heartwarming and challenging. But, remember that as parents, the best thing we can do for our children is giving them the tools necessary to prepare for the future. 

This means giving them the best education possible, and for some, an Extended School Year (ESY) is in our child’s best interest. 

Education is a right given to every child, disabled or not, and we recognize that you might need a helping hand from time to time. 

Your child has a bright future ahead of them – let’s help them get there!


Students in a classroom that participate in ESY - Extended School Year for Special Education.
What is ESY- Extended School Year for Special Education? Here’s what you need to know to get your child help during extended school breaks.


Picture of Shannah Holt

Shannah Holt

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