The Nightmare Known As ESY

Every spring, teachers across the U.S. work their tails off to ensure that the students in their class who needed extra help, qualify for ESY (Extended School Year). For me, it seemed that no matter how hard I tried, the results were ALWAYS the same. Only a small percentage of the students who truly needed assistance were able to receive ESY services.

To better assist students in “qualifying” for ESY, throughout the year I tracked the progress or rather regression (I called this brain atrophy) of my students upon returning from extended breaks. I’m a data driven person; I would spend hours collecting the essential information and keep track of everything, even the goals that weren’t marked for ESY. I wanted all of my youngsters to qualify even though I knew from past years, that wouldn’t be the case.

One situation in particular was heartbreaking, frustrating and really put the erosion of the special education system into perspective. I had a student in my self-contained classroom that dramatically regressed over ALL extended breaks. He had two goals on his IEP (Individualized Education Plan), which needed to be tracked for ESY. Both of these were behavior goals, since the school I worked at was a “behavior school.” (Students were sent to my school because they were not successful in their school district. Basically, the district didn’t have enough resources to support “certain kids with behaviors” in their own schools.)

Those goals were;

  1. Follow Classroom Rules (Structure)
  2. Progress on overall behavior issues (measured by % of the school day he physically acted out)

This student had been in my class the entire school year so I knew him well. I had tracked everything; I was determined to get him qualified. My data was completely accurate and precise. I almost became obsessed with how well I tracked everything, I was proud of myself.

After every break including long weekends, this student displayed dramatic regression. Sometimes his behavior and demeanor were almost unrecognizable upon his return!

To illustrate my point, let me begin by sharing a specific example of the type of regression this student struggled with. Before a particular break, this student was only acting out physically, about ten percent of the time on a typical day. I know this seems like a lot (and it still was), but his behavior was constant when he arrived in my classroom! This drastic decrease in aggressive behavior was due in large part to our highly structured environment; he had a routine in place and knew the rules of the classroom.

When he returned from the winter break (like all other extended breaks) he was up to sixty percent! That’s over half of his day spent picking fights and showing aggressive behavior toward myself, and the rest of the class. Along with violently hitting peers and staff members, he was no longer following the rules of the classroom. Before the break he would follow the classroom rules about fifty percent of the time. Upon his return, only twenty percent of his day was spent minding the structure of the class… the rest of the time was pure chaos. It took him just over a week to get back to where he was before the break.

When the school year was nearing an end, I began getting everything prepared for this student to receive ESY services. After all of the necessary documents were filled out perfectly, phone calls were made and meetings were held I was sure he was going to qualify. I had everything I needed including documents, charts, graphs, statements from his parents and therapists explaining how he regressed over extended breaks. I had put so much time into this, he was the one student who would definitely qualify… or so I thought.

After weeks (up until the last week of school) of waiting for the school district to “look over the paperwork,” they finally came to a decision. He qualified for ONLY one week of ESY. WHAT?????

I was blown away, frustrated, speechless, in shock and in tears all at the same time! I called the district to see what had happened, what I missed or perhaps what additional paperwork they needed in order to SEE just how much this student would benefit and NEEDED the additional assistance! They stuck to their guns, and simply reiterated the decision they’d made. I bit my tongue and called his mom to let her know. She was truly upset by their decision. She called the district and pleaded her son’s case… nothing changed.

This situation was like so many I encountered as a teacher… Most of my students either didn’t qualify or only attended ESY for a few weeks.

The ESY debacle, like so many other resource deficient aspects of today’s school system, seems to boil down to lack of money. These are services children have a RIGHT to receive! Having people sit in a room and make decisions about children’s future, I kind of understand… NOT listening to the student’s teacher, who spends everyday all year with the child, I DO NOT understand. Not involving, the parents at all… is borderline criminal.

Bottom line, as a educator and a parent… NEVER stop pushing for your child, be so loud that you wear people down to get your way! Finally… ask questions until you fully understand all aspects of your child’s education. They NEED you to advocate for them!

If you’re a parent who wants to tackle brain atrophy on your own, check out my 10 Simple Do-It-Yourself Tips For ESY. These tips have been used by countless parents throughout the U.S. and help to create a solid baseline you can build on throughout any long break!


-Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.

What are your thoughts on ESY?

As an educator, have you witnessed similar situations with the district? Were you able to influence change for your student?

As a parent, have you interacted with the district as it relates to ESY? What was your experience?

Please share in the comment section below.

Suzie Dalien

Suzie Dalien

Suzie Dalien

Suzie Dalien


  1. In our district ESY is not truly an extended school year… It is in a different building, with different teachers, with different curriculum, etc. etc. The parents that fight for it, just want free babysitting (i.e the students don’t need it) and those students that we teachers fight to qualify won’t go!

  2. As an at home parent of two other children it was need or wanted and feel that the value of family time as well as my contribution as a parent is disrespected by the process. I also believe in irrefutable evidence that child development is served best by open play. Especial when talking about a young child. Additional when an out placement setting benefits financially from the child qualifying, then it make their opinion a bit biased. In my experience it has been held over our head with ” we can’t hold his place for fall if you don’t “. Sorry my values involve family time and my child in swimming lessons.

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