Seven Things to Know about Extended School Year (ESY) Services

Summer is upon us! For some families of students with autism, the summer vacation is a welcome opportunity to participate in new activities, take a break from academic learning and enjoy some summer fun! For others, however, this time may a very difficult transition and lead to a stall in the progress their children have been making throughout the year. Some of these students may qualify for Extended School Year (ESY) services over the break to be provided by the school district.

Seven things to know about ESY services:

1. ESY services are defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

As written in IDEA:

The term extended school year services means special education and related services that--
(1) Are provided to a child with a disability -

(i) Beyond the normal school year of the public agency;
(ii) In accordance with the child’s IEP; and
(iii) At no cost to the parents of the child; and

(2) Meet the standards of the state educational agency.

Each public agency must ensure that extended school year services are available as necessary to provide FAPE (free appropriate public education), only if a child’s IEP Team determines, on an individual basis…that the services are necessary for the provision of FAPE to the child.

2. Not all students with IEPs are eligible for ESY services.

Eligibility for ESY services is assessed by a student’s IEP team. An IEP or special education services in school does not automatically make the child eligible for ESY. Eligibility varies by school district and/or state and must be looked at by the child’s IEP team annually. Parents can request an ESY program through the child’s school district or at the next IEP meeting. Similar to other decisions made by the school district, if a child is denied ESY services, the parent can appeal the decision.

3. The two most commonly looked at factors for eligibility are regression and recoupment.

When determining eligibility for ESY services, IEP teams will look at whether or not the child is at risk of regressing – losing skills and knowledge – during a break from school. They will also look at recoupment – how long it might take for the child to regain the skills and knowledge they may have lost over the break. If the summer break/school vacation is likely to lead to a significant regression in the progress the child has been making, and/or if the child’s progress will be significantly delayed when the break is over, the school will determine what services may be required to prevent that from happening. Other factors may include:

  • If the student is close to a breakthrough in learning
  • If progress has stalled toward a specific IEP goal
  • If the child needs to continue learning a critical skill related to self-sufficiency and independence

4. ESY is not the same as summer school.

ESY is not designed to help students make up for what goals may not have been achieved during the school year, or prepare for the school year ahead. The services are available to those eligible to allow the student to retain their knowledge and skill levels, and prevent them from regressing when school is not in session. In addition, ESY services can be provided over school vacations such as winter or spring break, not only over the summer.

5. Services are based on the child’s specific and unique needs and goals.

There is not a general school ESY program that students can participate in if they meet the eligibility requirements. Each ESY program is tailored specifically to the child based on their IEP. For example, your child will likely regress in their speech and language skills over summer break, the ESY services they receive must be focused on those speech and language skills.

6. There are a wide range of services offered, some as simple as take-home worksheets.

Not all ESY services are provided in person. In fact, many students who require fewer supports may be given instructions for home-based activities that they can do with their parents or other caregivers. For those students who require greater supports in school, ESY services may be available full-time.

7. Summer ESY is optional.

A parent can refuse ESY services even if their child meets eligibility requirements if they don’t want their child to attend, or if it simply doesn’t work with your summer schedule. For example, some parents declined the virtual ESY services offered during the COVID-19 pandemic if their child is unable to benefit from virtual learning. As it relates to COVID-19, Autism Speaks is currently advocating for expanded access to summer learning opportunities for students with autism.

To see if your child is eligible for ESY services this summer, check with your school district or schedule a meeting with your child's IEP team. 

For more information about IEPs and your child's rights at school, visit our Guide to Individualized Education Programs.

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