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ESY – The Parents Guide

Having a child with learning disabilities and/or special needs presents challenges for parents on every front – few as daunting as learning the language and workings of the public school system. It’s an alphabet soup of IDEA’s, IEP’s, LRE’s and ESY’s. The fact that each state has its own additional rules and additions to the national mandates makes swimming through the soup that much more intimidating. To help your child get the most out of their educational experience, it’s up to you to become knowledgeable about the laws and your child’s rights. In addition, you will want to begin building a base of special education resources bookmarked for use in the future.

Once your child joins the school system and has been identified as being in need of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), you will find yourself tossed into a morass of guidelines, buzz words and, quite possibly, frustrating roadblocks. An IEP is a legal document created by you (the parent), a general and a special education teacher, a representative from the school district and a school psychologist. The IEP is designed to accommodate your child’s special needs and specific learning style. One component of the IEP that can be confusing to parents is the inclusion of Extended School Year (ESY). While doing your own research is highly recommended, the information below should give you a better understanding of ESY as it applies to children with special needs.

Learn to swim through alphabet soup.

Sitting through an IEP meeting – especially when you’re first starting out – can make you question whether the professionals gathered around the table are speaking the same language that you do. Knowing the basic abbreviations and what they mean will help you to feel more comfortable when discussing what’s best for your child.

  • IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Act. From IDEA come a slew of abbreviations. In short, the IDEA was written into law to ensure that children with disabilities get an education that best meets their individual needs.
  • FAPE – FAPE stands for “Fair and Appropriate Public Education” – it is the core of IDEA.
  • LRE – In offering children FAPE, public schools must do so in the “Least Restrictive Environment,” or LRE. The goal here is to include children with disabilities within the school’s general population as much as possible.
  • SEA – Standards for your State Educational Authority must be met as well as the national standards set by IDEA.

Understand what Extended School Year (ESY) is and is not.

  • ESY is not summer school.
  • ESY is not specifically defined by IDEA. Instead, it is up to your child’s IEP team to determine if ESY will benefit your child.
  • ESY is used when the IEP team determines that a child will lose gains made during the school year if there is an extended break from school.
  • ESY includes academic as well as other related services (speech, behavioral, etc.) that a child receives in school.
  • ESY is not special needs tutoring. While private or small group tutoring is an extremely valuable tool, it is generally a paid service. ESY is a component of the public school system and, therefore, is a free service mandated by law.

Your role as a parent is VITALLY important.

  • A common complaint among special education professionals is the struggle to truly engage parents in their child with special needs education. (The simple fact that you are reading this article likely excludes you from this group of parents.) Even if you feel overwhelmed, the best thing you can do is ask questions, use the huge range of special education resources available online and make an effort to get to know other parents of special needs.
  • Get a notebook dedicated solely to your child’s education and use it. Take notes when you’re on the phone, talking to teachers and attending IEP meetings. Try to make a habit of dating each page. When one notebook is full, mark the dates on the cover and put it somewhere you can find it should you need to refer back. If the idea of notebook or journal is new to you, try the Bullet Journal website for some guidelines. Used consistently, notebooks can be a valuable source of information and documentation.
  • Understand how IDEA, specifically 300.106, is applied in your state and, more importantly within your school district. In general, this section is taken to mean that to qualify for ESY your child must be at risk of losing 2/3’s of what they have learned during the past school year. How it is being applied state by state varies wildly.
  • Know your rights. Whether you opt to send your child to public school full-time, part-time or homeschool, you are still deserving of special needs services. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association offers great tips not only for homeschooling but, also on your rights a parent of a special needs child – no matter where they attend school.
  • ESY is not a one-time choice. Revisit the pros and cons of ESY for your child each year with your IEP team. When your child reaches 16, include them in the discussion as much as possible. There will be years where ESY makes sense and other years where it doesn’t.

Yes. It is a lot to take in. Remember, your child’s education is not a race! Develop your own method of sifting through information and saving what might be helpful and discarding what does not apply to your situation. Even if you haven’t done “research” since the days of card catalogs, with a bit of practice, you will learn to navigate the educational system and sift out the nuggets of information that will most help you and your child on your journey. Don’t rule anything out – take time to read about public schools, private schools and homeschools. Each niche offers their own bit of wisdom.

Yes. You’re overwhelmed and crunched for time. Set a goal for 20 minutes of day researching whatever aspect of ESY that might help you. If you start with this article, you can cover the links in 2-3 days! Save what helps, discard the rest. Then, working from what you have saved, use links from those sites to lead you to more information. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the faster you get at doing to the research.

You’ve got this!