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ESY, or Extended School Year, offers children with special needs the chance to continue receiving instruction and/or therapies beyond the end of the regular school year. The goal is to reduce the level of regression (loss of skills learned during the past year) over extended school breaks. A part of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), ESY mandates that public schools provide students with IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans) in place who are at risk of losing 2/3 or more of the knowledge/skills they acquired in the past year be provided with an ESY. This is to ensure that every child gets a “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE).
As the provision is written, schools are provided no national funding. Each state has adopted its own way of paying for its ESY programs. As a result, ESY programs are often limited to those with the most severe disabilities putting other children with special needs at risk of regression year after year. For parents, understanding IDEA and, especially ESY is one of the keys to getting your child the services they need at the time they need them. The following list gives you five ways to get started.
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.
- Understand the law. Wright’s Law is a blog that will be especially helpful. It’s articles will link you to not only the actual laws but it provides clear, accurate explanations to help you understand your child’s rights. Additionally, the blog cites relevant state and Supreme Court cases pertaining to various issues. While the vast majority of 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.
- Learn how to research any topic. If you are determined, and you are, you can find your own answers. It’s not that the people who seem to be the smartest are actually the smartest. They know how to research a topic to get the information they need. Doing research is a skill that anyone can learn. Bookmark this page to read later. It takes you through the basic steps help you find what you need in the most efficient way. Once you learn the steps, you’ll find information faster and more accurately than you can believe.
- Once you’ve figured out how to research, decide what you want to learn – in this instance what do you want to learn about ESY. As suggested in #2, start with wikipedia to get an overview. Once you’ve read the wikipedia article, follow the links in the wikipedia article to garner even more information. At this point, you will want to create some files in your bookmark section. When researching ESY some good folders to have might be:
- A link to the actual IDEA law, especially Section 504.
- Articles pertaining to your child’s special needs.
- Information on how your state, particularly your school district, implements ESY.
- Blogs and forums where other parents share their experiences – successful and otherwise.
- Websites relating to special education resources as well as special education homeschooling resources (we’ll explain what homeschooling has to do with this further down).
- Finally, keep a “For Later” folder in your bookmarks for anything you run into that looks interesting but has nothing to do with ESY. For the time being, stay focused on your current research just save those places for when you have time.
- If you haven’t yet, create a notebook pertaining solely to your child’s IEP. A 2” 3-ring binder works well. When a school year ends, move the contents of the binder to a large, manila envelope and label it with dates and your child’s name. Then build a new notebook for the next year. Divide the notebook into sections that make sense to you. Some suggestions:
- Basic information – this part of your notebook will move from year to year. Include the members of your child’s IEP, teacher and their contact information. Also include information for other important school personnel – secretaries, counselors, teachers, etc.
- Your child’s information – here include 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.
- Necessity is the mother of all invention. If you are lucky enough to live in a school district with a strong ESY program that’s great. But, many schools are understaffed and underfunded. If you find yourself frustrated with the school you may have to get creative!
- Take a cue from the homeschooling community. If you are certain your child needs ESY and the school district does not share your point of view, take matters into your own hands. There are countless free homeschooling blogs, forums and sites with activities. Many offer excellent advice for helping your child retain their learning from the previous year. A quick Pinterest search will give you access to homeschool and teacher blogs and resources that will help you help your child. Try several variations on your search to get the maximum resources. (Don’t forget to bookmark the good ones in a folder you label DIY ESY)
- Consider special needs tutoring. There are affordable ways to help your child maintain their knowledge and skill level both online and locally. Sometimes, taking matters into your own hands and going outside of the school is the best option.
- Create your own ESY program. If your child is denied ESY, don’t despair. Talk to some other parents in your child’s school and you’ll likely learn that you are not alone. Band together and create your own ESY. Work as a group to develop a summer program. Divide responsibilities – teaching time, space, transportation, supplies, research – among yourselves so it will not be too much of a burden on any one family.
Using some basic research skills, a little ingenuity and keeping your resolve will help you ensure your child is getting the best education available. You might have to get more hands-on than you originally thought. That’s okay. In fact, the more hands-on you become, the more you’ll learn about your child, about your school system and about what you are capable of doing on your own. Remind yourself there is no perfect solution but, a little ingenuity can go a long way.