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ESY For Behavior Related Challenges

Extended School Year (ESY) services can be a valuable component to your child’s education. While, ESY is beneficial to children with a wide range of learning challenges, students who experience behavior-related changes during school breaks are at a very high risk of regression without ESY services. As part of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Extended School Year offers continued academic instruction and/or services during school breaks for children who qualify. To qualify, your child must first have an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) in place. However, ESY is not automatic for any child and it does not renew year-to-year. You must be ready to advocate for your child at the very first IEP team meeting of each year.

ESY programs vary around the country. ESY, however beneficial, is not just going to come to your child. Your awareness of the rules and legalities in your own state is critical if you want your child to have the best shot at ESY. The older your child is, the more likely it is you will have documentation of your child’s specific learning challenges as well as their behavior-related issues. Keep your own records, do not rely on the school to do it for you. It is also important that you understand that you are a vital part of your child’s IEP team. The school system is not doing you a favor by letting you attend meetings. Take your role seriously and you’ll be taken seriously.

As you educate your self about your state’s special education laws and your school district’s specific policies, you may want to bookmark Wright’s Law blog. It offers explanations of many of the legal questions that arise when your child has special needs. Additionally, the site offers links to appropriate laws, court cases and other websites that maybe be of help. When you are working with your child’s IEP team, it is helpful to have a copy of your state’s ESY handbook – one for yourself and one for the team. Additionally, it is important for you to understand that regression/recoupment of skills is 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 shows your child is likely to lose material learned in the previous school session and/or 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 learning a new skill or behavior that coincides with a school break? Will that opportunity be lost without ESY?
  • Your child’s specific disability – School districts cannot deny a child ESY based on their particular challenges.       Requests for ESY must be addressed on an individual basis.
  • Behaviors – Does your child exhibit interfering behaviors which prohibits them from receiving the full benefits of their education? Are the behaviors exacerbated after a break from school?
  • Progress – Is your child at risk of losing progress on goals outlined specifically by their IEP?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was created, in large part, to ensure that all children receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). For children with behavior-related challenges, achieving these goals can be challenging for schools and for parents. Again, it’s important for you to keep your own records and document your child’s behavior issues both at home and at school. Also having your child thoroughly tested for physical and/or mental causes for various behaviors can be helpful. Often, an underlying learning disability can trigger frustration that leads 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 will best suit your child.

Get to know your school’s specific policies for helping children with behavioral disorders. Study after study has shown that positive reinforcement, steady structure and routine and offering reasonable challenges each day 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. Because 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 of ESY services.

Due to the subjective language of IDEA, even a child who is clearly a candidate for ESY can be refused. If that is your situation, there are steps you can take to help your child at home during breaks. Thanks to the internet, there are millions of special education resources available – some for a fee and others at no charge. You can learn much from others who have been in your shoes if you’re willing to do some digging. It will be a process of trial and error but, there is something out there that will work for you and your child.

If ESY is off of the table for this year, do not rule out special needs tutoring. For children with behavioral disorders, online tutors are often a positive solution. You can personalize the time and focus of each lesson to suit your child’s needs. Your child can learn without distractions in a safe, familiar setting.

You are your child’s best advocate. It’s a thankless, exhausting and worthwhile job. Take each year as it comes. Do your part – know the law, know your school district and be prepared to work independently, or to enlist outside services, when need be. If you do your part, you will not be intimidated by school personnel nor, will you be uncomfortable suggesting alternatives to their suggestions. No one wants more for your child than you! Persevere. Gather knowledge, friends and resources as you go. The old saying is true – knowledge is power.