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ESY For Year-Round School

If you live in a community that offers year-round school to public school children, you may initially feel like your child has an advantage over children who attend schools that follow a traditional school year. If you have a child with a disability you might feel like the chance of your child losing skills over long breaks drops dramatically by attending a school with a year-round calendar, as opposed to only ESY. And, for some families, year-round school works well. For others, it looks good on paper yet, does not produce the anticipated results. The results of studies have shown that children who attend a year-round school are at a slight advantage over their peers who attend a school that follows a traditional calendar. For children with learning and/or other disabilities, getting a complete view of year-round schooling can be a little more complex.

The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that all children deserve a “free and appropriate education” (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment (LRE).” But, wait! There is more alphabet soup to be had. A child with learning disabilities is entitled to an Individual Education Plan (IEP) under the IDEA. If your child qualifies for an IEP, you, the parent, are an equal partner on the IEP team that includes teachers and other professionals from the school.

As a parent and as your child’s best advocate, it is your responsibility to know about special education law in general and as it works in your state. (Wrightslaw, a non-profit blog, is an excellent place to start educating yourself.) In your quest for knowledge, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the concept of Extended School Year (ESY) services. For now, let’s just get familiar with some basic definitions.

What is Year-Round Schooling?

The traditional school schedule was established when the United States was largely an agrarian economy. The school year was designed to give children the summer off so that they could help on family farms. As our economy has changed, more and more people have advocated for updating the school calendar as well. The most common year-round school schedule does not change the 180 day school year – it simply breaks it into different parts. In most year-round situations, kids attend school for 45 days and then have 15 days off.

The main arguments for year-round schooling are that it:

  1. Gives kids the breaks they need when they need them.
  2. Children retain information at a higher rate when their breaks from school are shorter and more regularly timed.

What is Extended School Year?

If a child is at risk of regressing or losing knowledge gained during a break from school AND that child has an IEP in place, that child qualifies for ESY. Basically, ESY offers services (speech, physical therapy, behavior, etc.) during breaks from school when that child is at risk of losing gains made during the school term. While it is commonly thought that ESY applies only to the summer break, this is not the case. ESY refers to any break from school that allows enough time for your child suffer a setback.

What, then, is your job if your child with a learning disability is in a year-round school situation? Again, your main job is to educate yourself and, if need be, educate your child’s IEP team about the national, state and local laws that apply to special education. A lot of the needed information can be found by accessing special education resources in your local area. Never assume that school personnel know more about the law than you do. While they may be well intentioned, they often get their facts from the grapevine rather than solid sources.

The school district cannot determine which disabilities qualify for ESY. Nor can they limit the dates of the resources they offer. However, most school districts have budget constraints that may leave you at loose ends as far as ensuring your child’s learning continues in the most seamless manner possible. It will be up to you to determine if your local school district’s ESY offerings will work for your child.

Even if your child is approved for ESY, you are not obligated to accept it. Learn about your school district’s ESY program.

  • Will your child be sent to a new district (many districts share ESY responsibilities)?
  • Will your child handle new teachers and/or a new setting well?
  • Are there options you could pursue at home that might be just as helpful? (There are a lot of special education homeschool resources available for any parent, not just those who choose to homeschool.)

If you are in a year-round schooling situation, find out what the school considers to be the start of the new year. As much as you can (with the help of doctors, teachers and other professionals involved with your child) document the probability of your child regressing during the extended school breaks. Bring this, along with anything you have discovered in your state’s case law, to the earliest possible IEP meeting and begin arguing your case for ESY. Often, you’ll find people on your side but who do not know how to work around the bureaucracy. Perhaps, working together, you can find a way.

Sadly, despite the law, there is a good chance your child will not qualify for ESY. Or you may find your child qualifies one year and not the next. With that possibility looming, it’s good to have a back up plan. As mentioned above, you can take a cue from the homeschool community whether or not you ever intend to homeschool. Google your specific concerns with the word homeschool in your search and you are bound to find some resources. In addition to Google, Pinterest offers a nice search engine and a wealth of generous special education resources that you can use at home with no special training.

If going it alone feels beyond your limits, look into special education tutoring, particularly online special education tutoring. You can get personalized, affordable help that will keep your child’s skills up to level during breaks from school. In addition, you may learn some “tricks” that will help you help your child during regular school sessions.

Odds are your mom told you that life isn’t fair. It’s not. When you have a child with a learning disability, it’s your job to do what you can to make life more fair for your child. Learn the law. Get to know your school and the people you’ll be working with. Learn to use outside resources to support what is going on in the school and to help you with day-to-day life at home. It’s not fair. It’s not easy. But, it’s your job now and you have the resources to make sure your child gets the best education possible.