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I know it's only January, but in the special education world, this is the time to start thinking about your child's summer. Specifically, it is time to think about the Extended Service Year (ESY) and whether or not your child is eligible for it.

ESY decisions are made by IEP teams, which include parents. Some states have time frames for when the team should consider a child's eligibility for ESY, and some do not. I live in Massachusetts, which does not have these types of guidelines. This means that it is up to the parent(s) to request a team meeting early enough to discuss ESY and leave enough time for working out any possible disagreements.

The important thing to know about ESY that it is not only a summer thing. If eligible, your child can also receive services during school vacations and even on long weekends. While it is not as common as the services offered during the summer, under specific circumstances, I have been able to help several of my clients to continue receiving home-based services during school vacations. As they say, autism does not take a vacation.

You can see for yourself what the law says about ESY right here. To translate into normal English and explain, this legalese means that:

  • ESY programs may not be limited to children with special needs in certain program types (e.g., substantially separate settings) or to children with certain types of disabilities.

  • Decisions about ESY programs must be made on an individual basis, taking into consideration the unique needs of the child. The district cannot restrict the duration, type and amount of the services. This is to say, if your district informs you that "Our ESY is four weeks long" and your child requires a longer duration of services, the district has to provide them. Please note the use of the word "required" here. The need needs to be well-documented and based on objective factors. By the same token, the district cannot arbitrarily decide that a particular type of service that your child requires is not available during ESY. For example, I worked with districts that would say that a speech and language pathologist consultation is not available in the summer. However, because we had objective information to show that it is required the district put it on the child's IEP and made arrangements for it.

  • The services provided during the ESY have to be based on the services, goals, and objectives in the child's IEP. The districts often consider only academics when making the ESY decision. Social, communication, behavioral, independence, community safety, and other non-academic goals can also be included in the scope of ESY provided that it is needed. More on that below.

  • Specific eligibility criteria and timelines for making ESY decisions vary by state. Check your state regulations.

  • If you have a choice, request this discussion on an early side (February), so that you have time to negotiate if there is a disagreement.


ESY decision cannot be based on a single criterion. It has to be based on a "multi-faceted inquiry". Regression cannot be the single factor based on which the decision is made. Here is the list of factors that an IEP team needs to consider while making a decision about the child's eligibility for ESY:

  • Regression and Recoupment: Regression is a decline in knowledge and skills that can result from an interruption in education. Recoupment is the amount of time it takes to regain the prior level of functioning. If regression over the summer and recoupment in the fall will take a long time, the student will not benefit from instruction in the next school year.

  • Emerging skills/breakthrough opportunities - Will a lengthy summer break cause significant problems for a child who is learning a key skill, like reading (Reusch v. Fountain (1994)

  • Nature and/or severity of disability. Although no disability category can be excluded to being eligible for ESY, students with more severe disabilities will likely be at risk for more regression and slower recoupment.

  • Degree of progress toward IEP goals and objectives. A student who has not met his or her annual IEP goals and objectives will need additional services to get caught up to where they should be. This can be used as a factor in a team decision on ESY eligibility.

  • The duration and content of ESY services has to be determined on an individual basis. "Cookie-cutter" programs are common, but if they do not work for your child, the district needs to offer an individualized program.

  • Ability of the parents to provide an educational structure at home. If parents cannot provide the structure, this factor's impact on potential regression and recoupment has to be considered.

  • Special circumstances and interfering behavior that limit student's ability to benefit from special education instruction during the regular school year

  • Decisions on ESY eligibility need to be based on data. The district should have retrospective data on your child's performance after school vacations and long holidays. Absence of data is not an excuse not to provide ESY. If the data are not available, the team can use their knowledge of the child to predict potential for regression and length of recoupment.

If you haven't yet, now is the time to request data collection by your team. But in the absence of data, the team cannot wait and let the child fail first.



My professional experience

The federal case law and federal guidelines.

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