Summer is in full swing, and for many students with IEPs, that means extended school year (ESY) programming. An ESY program is a bit different from summer school. ESY includes specialized instruction and related services that the student needs in order to prevent regression of skills during the extended break from school.
Like the rest of the child's IEP, the ESY program must be individualized to meet that particular student's unique educational needs, and allow him to make progress on his IEP goals and objectives. Not all special education students require extended school year services. If your child is not likely to lose skills over the summer, or if she is able to quickly recoup any previously learned skills even after an extended break, she likely is not entitled to ESY.
With that said, a wide variety of ESY programming must be made available to eligible students. Your child's school district cannot limit its ESY programming to only certain subjects, or a specific type of disability category. While it's common to focus on academic skills, such as reading and math, your child may also be eligible for such services as behavioral support, speech and language instruction, or occupational therapy during the summer. If data collected during the school year demonstrates a need for reinforcement of any skills during the summer, you should ask your child's IEP team about including them as part of his ESY program.
If your child is currently receiving an ESY program, but you believe that it's not the right fit for your child -- that it's not addressing the right skills, or that it is simply an extension of school-year goals that he's already mastered, for example -- tell your child's teacher, IEP case manager, or an administrator who is available over the summer. Things change, and as your child continues to develop his skills and make progress, you may find that his educational needs have changed as well. This is especially the case when the ESY program has been developed well in advance of the summer break. While it's not a good idea to wait until June to develop an ESY program, doing so too far in advance can also mean that the plan will need to be revisited come the end of the school year. Remember that you may request revisions to the IEP, and ask for additional assessments of your child's abilities and progress, as needed for your child to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE), including over the summer.
In some cases, the parents disagree with the team's proposal to place the student in an ESY program. The reasons for this might include that the proposed ESY program is inappropriate, or that the parent has other plans for the child, such as a summer camp or job experience. In other cases, the child may need a break from school, and the parent decides that any risk of skill regression is far outweighed by the benefits of play-based learning and socializing during the summer. Depending on your child's needs, you may be entitled to payment by the school district for the summer program of your choosing, even if that program differs from what's being proposed as part of your child's IEP. It's important to conduct thorough research on available summer programming, and to discuss in detail with the IEP team why you believe the program of your choosing is appropriate to meet your child's specialized needs during the summer. An education law attorney or parent advocate may be able to help you obtain the ESY program that is the best fit for your child.
Does your child receive an extended school year program, or has she received one in the past? Drop a note in the comments to share your experience with other parents.