If your child has an IEP, you undoubtedly are surrounded by special education acronyms all the time. One of the more frequently used acronyms is ESY. ESY meaning is Extended School Year.

But, even the phrase Extended School Year is vague and often misunderstood. I hear false statements from parents all the time about ESY. Many people even refer to it as ESY summer school, which is one of the first things I want to explain.

A group of children participating in an extended school year sitting in the grass reading books.

“In New York, if your child goes to ESY, they are not eligible for a diploma.”

Save The Post IEP Parent Form

📧 Save this for later? 📧

We can instantly send this to your inbox. Or, send to a friend.

Yes, I heard that one recently! Can you believe it!?! Extended School Year is probably one of the main sections of the IEP where the worst advice and most misinformation is passed around.

Recently I also heard “ESY can only happen in June.” Also, not true.

So, let’s dig in so that you can be a better IEP advocate for your child.

What is Extended School Year?

  • It is further defined by case law: Reusch V. Fountain (1994). You can read more on this case above.
  • ESY (extended school year) is anything that extends beyond the normal six hours a day, 180 days a year.
  • It is a provision of IDEA and is not just summer school. See ESY booklet below, IDEA regulations on page 4.
  • It can be anything (as long as the program has merit and fidelity towards meeting your child’s goals)
  • ESY is determined by the child’s needs.
  • It can be year-round tutoring, summer tutoring, summer camps, summer recreation programs and so on.
  • For older kids, it may be 1:1 job training, job shadowing or job coaching. (Some states call it ESS or SES).
Your child's extended school year: everything you need to know.

Extended School Year Criteria

So, here we go, ESY. Extended School Year. A reminder to always check your state regulations because it can vary.

NEW: The 50 Regulations Spreadsheet now includes ESY regulations. You can find the specific Extended School Year guidance for your state by scrolling through the spreadsheet below. If a link doesn’t work, please email us. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. But if your state lists extended school year criteria and extended school year eligibility, that’s where it will be.

No, we will not send you the spreadsheet link because we don’t want people editing it.

Extended School Year Eligibility

Here is the actual wording in IDEA about ESY.

A page with the words extended school year ssc ssc ssc ssc ssc.

As usual in the IEP world, there are vague terms such as “available as necessary to provide FAPE” and “IEP Team determines on an individual basis.” So yes, the team has to agree and if the parent does not agree with what is offered, must use their Procedural Safeguards.

However, there are a few good nuggets in there– A public agency or LEA representative (IE your school district) may not:

  • Limit extended school year services to particular categories of disability
  • Unilaterally limit the type, amount, or duration of those services.

I’m often asked “How long is extended school year?” or similar sentiments. Sometimes a parent wants a longer ESY program than what is being offered.

That second bullet point may come in handy if the canned program that the district is offering is not appropriate for your child. More on that later in the post.

Why is February 28 an important date for ESY? (PA only!)

It is in Pennsylvania, and here’s why. Per the PA code (linked above) it states that the IEP team must meet by February 28 to determine eligibility for ESY programming, particularly summer ESY programming, for some populations. This group is known as the Armstrong group, named after a lawsuit. It pertains to students with higher needs.

The thought process is, like any other part of the IEP, the parent must be allowed time for due process, should they disagree with the team’s decision.

If the team decides that your child does not qualify, you have ample time to file for due process or mediation. If you are interested in having your child attend your district’s summer ESY program, and you do not hear anything by March 1 or 10 or so, I would put in a written request asking about it, if it is not specified in the IEP.

Also worth noting, the PA code calls for a 2/28 eligibility meeting date (NLT), and then a letter NLT 3/31. However, and I really, really, really dislike this. It does use the term “only for severe disabilities.”

I still think that those dates are a great ‘best practice.’ My concern as an advocate is for the borderline kid who has a September or October IEP meeting, and then the team checks the box that says “more information needed.” Before you know it, it’s Memorial Day and no decision is made and mom is fighting for extended school year services.

The takeaway-Be proactive! Ask in February or March.

Depositphotos 442043500 XL

What can I ask for, for ESY?

Is ESY Summer School? No. And this is where the part of the PA State Code bothers me. I understand the need to give parents time for Due Process if necessary. However, the code, as written, implies that ESY is just a summer program and that is not the case.

It is anything above and beyond the 6-hour 180 day school year. Yes, Saturday programming is much less common. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen or isn’t an option if it is what your child needs.

I have seen all kinds of great ESY programming take place. Sometimes it was just a tutor for 1-2 hours a week. It does not have to be the canned program that your district offers if that does not meet your child’s needs.

I  have had clients whose child’s behavior regresses tremendously over Christmas break, long enough to warrant services. However, what’s more important is that the child gets services, not what they call it.

It is very difficult to convince a district to even give services over a holiday break, let alone get them to put it in ESY category. I don’t care what they call it as long as the child’s needs are met.

Depositphotos 308817832 XL

Are summer camps an ESY program?

This is where it gets very adversarial with schools. They plan a summer program and pay staff to run it. It makes sense that they want as many kids as possible to fit into this neat box they have planned. But life isn’t always nice and neat.

ESY programming is based on what the needs are of the child, determined by the IEP. So if you are told “This is the only ESY program we offer” ask for specifics.

If they tell you four hours a day, two for math and two for reading, but your child’s needs are social skills, fine motor, and executive functioning. How is four hours a day of reading and math appropriate?

Remember that second bullet point I mentioned above–they cannot “Unilaterally limit the type, amount, or duration of those services.”

To answer the question, summer camps are not immediately included nor excluded. If it is a summer camp for speech and language skills and that is what your child needs, you bet I would request that if I could demonstrate that it meets my child’s needs and the district program does not.

But if your district is offering speech and language skills as part of their extended school year program, you probably don’t have a good case. It is based on what the child needs.

Before I dig deeper, this is a part of the IEP process. Get it written into the IEP and if the team doesn’t agree, like anything else you have to decide how you are going to sign the PWN/NOREP.

A group of kids laying on the ground reading a book during their extended school year.

Extended School Year ESY Standards

  1. Individualized Programming-The ESY programming must be in accordance with the IEP, and must be specific to the child. In other words, programming that will help your child achieve her goals, not “Here is our ESY program, it’s Mon-Thurs 9-1, see you there!” It is not necessarily required just because she did not meet some IEP goals, and it is not to be used for education above and beyond what is in the IEP.
  2. No Single Eligibility Factor-They should not just focus on one factor. There are more than two, and ALL must be considered. ESY must be based on multiple criteria and regression cannot be used as a single qualifying factor.
  3. Eligibility factors for ESY (Please note that eligibility varies by state, check your state’s regs)~regression and recoupment-is she likely to lose critical skills or regress?
    ~emerging skills-will her educational programming be interrupted, is she on the verge of a breakthrough?
    ~crucial skill-will a break cause a significant problem in progress being made, such as toileting, verbalizing?
    ~interfering behavior/physical problem-does she have behaviors that interfere with her education? will an interruption in services disrupt her learning process?
    ~nature and severity of disability-targeted groups: ASD, PDD, moderate-severe IDD, severe multiple disabilities, serious emotional disturbance
    ~specific areas of the curriculum that need continuous attention-lack of progress toward a goal that will prevent them from meaningful benefit the next year
    ~parents inability or unwillingness to provide structure at home (are you a speech therapist?)
    ~rate of Progress-little or no progress
    ~availability of alternative resources
    ~special circumstances
  4. No cost to parents-self explanatory.
  5. Use of regression, recoupment and predictive data-A student cannot be required to fail first, they do not have to demonstrate regression first. Find out what your state standards are as far as a timeline to return to the level of achievement.
  6. Emergent skills and critical point of instruction-is she on the brink of a breakthrough or at the critical stage of gaining a new skill, or recently acquired a critical goal?
  7. Nature and severity of disability
  8. Timing to exercise procedural safeguards– The rule is February 28 in PA as I described above. Check your state’s regs for specifics.
  9. Defined individualized duration and support level-The amount and duration of her ESY services cannot be arbitrarily limited to the school’s summer schedule. It must fit the child’s needs.
  10. Individualized delivery model-Based on the child’s needs, not a one-size-fits-all summer program that the school offers.
  11. ESY must be educationally based-It must be related to IEP goals and services. It is not day care or respite care. It is only to help them reach minimum levels, not to have them surpass their peers.

When you disagree with the IEP team about ESY

The actual dates vary by state, or may not be well defined at all. I know some states define it as a “reasonable amount of time” to decide. So yeah, there we go again with those gray areas of IEP language.

But, they should have given you enough notice so that you have time to use your Due Process rights if you wish.

That is one option. When you realize that you are at an impasse, ask for their offer on a PWN and proceed from there. I would try mediation first.

Remember, ESY is needs based, so you have to demonstrate that your placement of choice meets your child’s needs and that theirs does not. That second part is important.

If what the district is offering does meet your child’s needs, you’re not likely to prevail.

I also have been in situations (with clients) where all it took was going to mediation and we got it. Sometimes mediation is just a box that they have to check to justify approving the program.

No, no school ever told me that–but there were several situations where they just fought us tooth and nail, and then conceded within the first 30 minutes of mediation.

Sometimes I think that they need to go back to school boards or whoever and say, “well, they took us to mediation!” I don’t know, maybe I’m totally wrong about it too, I’ve long ago stopped questioning the motives of others in IEP meetings.

Other options for ESY placement

But, let’s say you didn’t do well at mediation, or before you consider Due Process.

Please first compare the cost of an attorney for Due Process vs. the cost of the ESY program. You might find that it is much less to just pay for the program.

Private Funding ESY Placement

You don’t have money for Due Process or to pay for this ESY placement. I get it, we all live within budgets. Still, don’t throw in the towel. Read this list and see if there is something else you can do.

  • Look at the website and see if they have financial assistance or scholarships.
  • See if it might be covered by your insurance, can’t hurt to ask.
  • See if there is some county/state grant or funding program for stuff like this. For example, our county MH/IDD office used to fund recreational programs, as did our state’s Autism Mini-Grant Program. Both have since been cut but was a great answer for many families while it lasted.
  • Hold a fundraiser or even a gofundme type event to ask for help.
  • Write to both local (Lions, Rotary) and national groups (that support your child’s condition) and see if they have a grant of some kind that you can apply for.
  • If the ESY placement is a non-profit, ask if you can trade volunteer hours or something in lieu of tuition assistance.
  • Ask family and friends if they would chip in.
  • Ask local groups (scouts, etc.) if they would help you raise funds.

Common Myths about ESY

Myth: ESY is only for regression.

If my child is not regressing or at risk of regressing, he/she will not qualify.

Fact: ESY is not only for regression. There are other factors to consider, such as the emergence of a new skill. Ask your child’s team leader to show you where it says that regression is the only criteria. Know your state’s regulations, as it varies by state.

Myth: My child has to attend the canned ESY program that the school offers.

Fact: The child’s ESY program must meet their needs as documented on their IEP. ESY is needs driven, just like the rest of the IEP. If, for example, your child has strong speech/language needs and social skills needs, and the team tells you that during ESY they will not have an SLP or Social Skills Instructor on site. That doesn’t sound like it will meet your child’s needs. If your child is at risk of regressing in speech and social skills over the summer, they need those skills maintained over the summer.

Myth: You can always choose a camp of some kind for ESY.

Fact: In some cases, a camp is more appropriate, but not always. In the example given above, if you found a summer camp for your child that was language based and had a rich speech, language and social skills curriculum, it sounds like it would be more appropriate for the child’s needs. When looking at camps, you have to ask about the programming. The programming at the camp must meet the specific needs of the child. Furthermore, you also have to demonstrate that the school program will not meet your child’s needs.

Myth: You can use LRE as your argument to get out of the school’s canned program.

Fact: Schools are not required to invite nor require the attendance of typical children at ESY. It’s quite simple–schools cannot, and do not, require typical children to attend ESY. Why would they? So, this one gets a little tricky. Many kids have “role modeling typical peers” or something similar as an SDI on their IEP. But it’s very difficult to prove that that one SDI outweighs all the others. Unless you have a strong case for the need to be around typical peers, this is not a slam dunk of an argument.

Myth: ESY is so that my child can progress and catch up to his/her peers.

Fact: No. This one is really common. But, schools are not required that the child actually make progress during ESY. They only have to demonstrate that the child did not regress. Now, your child may make progress during ESY. Of course school staff don’t actively prevent kids from progressing. But it’s not a requirement.

Myth: Every child with an IEP gets ESY.

Fact: No again. Not everyone gets it. Not everyone who asks for it gets it. Lots of families go to Due Process over it, just like the many other parts of the IEP process. Again, check out the other post linked above and learn all the determining criteria for ESY.

Myth: My child can “catch up to their peers” during Extended School Year.

Fact: Ugh, I hate this part. But, your school does not have to demonstrate progress as a part of their extended school year activities. They only have to try to prevent regression, not make progress. It stinks. But that’s what it is.

Extended School Year Examples

Definitely read this booklet.

Whew! And that’s it! I hope this helps.

Free IEP Binder
Featured Image