Best Practices in Planning for Extended School Year Services

As the snow melts and the trees begin to blossom, our thoughts turn naturally to spring and even summer. But if you’re a special education administrator or intervention specialist, your pre-summer list is probably a mile long, even as early as March. One of those to-do items is planning Extended School Year (“ESY”) services for qualifying IEP students, a sometimes confusing and daunting task. Who decides which students qualify for services and how? Do we need to provide yoga and horseback riding if that’s what a parent requests? Can we just copy ESY goals and objectives from the IEP? Here are some best practices in planning ESY to make your team’s preparations just a bit easier this year.

  •    ESY Basics

The law requires school districts to provide ESY to qualifying students over the summer to prevent or lessen regression. ESY is not camp, child care, enrichment, or summer school. ESY services are specially-designed instruction and/or related services tied to specific goals on the student’s IEP. Every IEP includes an ESY section which requires the team to decide if a child is eligible for services.

   • ESY Qualifications

School districts must provide ESY when a child’s IEP team determines that ESY services are necessary to offer a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Common eligibility mistakes include qualifying children just because summer services will benefit them, because they’ve failed to make progress during the year, or because they fall within a particular disability category.

Generally, ESY services are only appropriate if the student will experience significant skill loss or regression during the summer break without those services. For each child, the IEP team should consider whether – without ESY – the student: (1) will not adequately recoup skills lost to summer regression; (2) will lose emergent skills; or (3) will be severely hampered in progressing towards IEP goals. If the answer to any of the above is yes, the student is eligible for ESY. Notably, a student does not have to actually experience regression to qualify, but there must be a reasonable basis to conclude that regression would result without ESY. A child’s regression – or lack of it – after shorter school breaks is often considered a reasonable basis for making ESY decisions.

  • Data Collection

Because ESY determinations are typically data-driven, teachers and other providers should collect data before and after school breaks. Specifically, educators should document levels of performance immediately before and after the break, as well as recording the amount of time the child needed to regain lost skills upon return. In analyzing before-and-after data, be sure to use an apples-to-apples comparison. For example, don’t compare a child’s score on a fifth-grade reading passage in August with a May score on a fourth-grade selection. Also, don’t limit this data collection to summer or the two-week winter vacation. Instead, collect data for Thanksgiving, spring break and any extended breaks in instruction. Without this data, denying a parent’s ESY request is legally challenging, so be sure to collect data for every potential ESY student on every goal.

  • ESY Goals and Services

Because ESY services seek to prevent regression and avoid jeopardizing progress, ESY goals – unlike those on an IEP – are not written to enhance existing abilities or learn new ones. In fact, ESY goals and objectives should focus on skills that the child does not recoup in a reasonable time, or skills needed to avoid significantly jeopardizing progress. Outcomes should center on reducing skill loss in a critical area and positively impacting recoupment within a reasonable amount of time. The team decides specific ESY services needed for each child individually based on their particular FAPE needs. So, no, unless proficiency in yoga and horseback riding are critical skills subject to regression in your particular district, ESY in those areas would be unnecessary for FAPE. Don’t forget that raw data must be collected on ESY goals as well; make sure your ESY providers are competent in data collection and documentation.

  • Working with Parents

In working with parents on ESY determinations, remember to meet early and explain the decision-making process clearly, along with referencing the specific data that the team reviewed. Consider parents’ input and suggestions, and be sure to consider the child’s individual needs every step of the way. ESY cannot be provided on a one-size-fits-all basis or categorically limited only to students with certain disabilities. Above all, don’t forget to document the team’s process and decisions through a prior written notice!

Careful forethought and planning with your teams in the spring will lead to an easier and more relaxing summer for everyone.

Miriam Pearlmutter is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at mpearlmutter@walterhav.com or at 216-619-7861.