Given a year or more of distance learning, hybrid instruction, or other disruptions to their educational program, your child may have experienced learning loss or instructional loss – or both.

Schools can address learning loss in 3 ways:

  • Compensatory Education Services
  • COVID Recovery Services
  • Extended School Year (ESY)

In an earlier blog post, we discussed compensatory education.

COVID recovery services are part of the pandemic relief funds earmarked for special education under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. These funds are not part of state or federal law, but there will be guidance on this by the federal Department of Education, and each state will have guidance documents as well.

Extended school year (ESY) is another option that all students with IEPs should be thinking about for this summer. That is what we will discuss today.

The law says:

  • The school district must ensure that extended school year services are available only if a child’s IEP team determines that the services are necessary to provide a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”) to the child. (Remember that the parent is a member of the IEP team!)
  • The school may not limit extended school year services to particular categories of disability (so they can’t say “We only have an autism-focused ESY class this summer” as a way to deny services to your child.)
  • They also may not “unilaterally limit the type, amount, or duration of those services.” This means that the ESY program must be designed uniquely for your child – just like their school year individualized education program.

If you have not already requested an IEP meeting to discuss ESY, this would be the time to do so. Make your request in writing, and note that the school district has 30 days to hold an IEP meeting.

Make a list of concerns that warrant ESY, such as:

  • Regression or loss of skills
  • Worsening behaviors
  • Lack of progress on their goals
  • Missed related services (like OT, PT, speech) 
  • Lack of benefit from remote instruction or services
  • Any new special education needs (emotional, medical, academic, social, or functional)

When you meet with the IEP team to discuss ESY, you will determine the student’s actual services or program. 

As the law says, the school cannot limit the ESY services or program based on what is available. They need to consider what each individual student needs.

For example: 

  • If your child made no progress or even regressed in reading, you may want to ask for reading intervention during ESY.  
  • If your child needs services every day during the summer rather than just during the few weeks that the district offers their program, ask the team whether they can provide daily services. 
  • If your child needs services in the home or community rather than in the school setting or via Zoom, then you can request that location for their ESY program.

Regardless of what you request for your child, data must support the need for any program, setting, duration, or service. If your child spent much of the past year at home, the data you collected at home is meaningful, and the team should consider it.

Red flags:

  • The team refuses to provide services because the student has no documented regression or learning loss over the summer. (Regression is not the only reason for ESY.)

  • The team refuses to allow the student to participate in a general education summer program. (If a student with medical issues had a shortened school day in his IEP, he might need general education summer school classes to stay on track for timely graduation; summer school is his ESY.)

  • The team refuses to provide the curriculum listed in the IEP because the ESY teacher is not trained in that methodology. (If the student’s reading goal says “given a multisensory, structured literacy program” and the student has successfully been utilizing an evidence-based program during the school year, then ESY should use the same program.)

ESY must address your child’s unique needs – there should be no “one size fits all” programs offered. Unfortunately, many school district ESY programs are not appropriate for the students they serve (they are not individualized, use untrained staff, are at a different location than the student’s regular school, etc.).

If the school says “no” to any of your requests, be sure to ask for their refusal in writing via Prior Written Notice (PWN). Utilize your procedural safeguards. Or call your state department of education, your local chapter of The Arc, a Parent Training and Information Center (PTI), the Disability Rights org for your state, or a special education advocate or attorney.

Upcoming presentations on ESY:

ESY and your IEP, Lisa Lightner, A Day In Our Shoes, Thursday, April 15, 2021, 11 a.m. PDT / 2 p.m. EDT. A live webinar and Q&A for parents with an IEP. Those who pre-register will receive the replay link.

The Summer Slide – ESY & Beyond, Special Education Legal Fund, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Join the Special Education Legal Fund for our May webinar focusing on “the summer slide” and how the IEP can help combat learning loss for special education students over the summer months.


ESY Resources:

Back to School Considerations—Options for Ensuring FAPE: A Resource Document 

Compensatory Services in the Age of COVID, Autism Spectrum News

Considerations for Extended School Year and Compensatory Services for Students with Disabilities During and After Texas School Closures Due to COVID-19

ESY | Extended School Year | ESY Eligibility Criteria | ESY Services A Day In Our Shoes

Extended School Year Services: What You Need to Know,

IEP Laws and Regulations for all 50 States | Spreadsheet with Links | A Day In Our Shoes

Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak, US Department of Education Guidance Memo dated March 2020; Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students (OCR 2020).

About the author

Audrey Vernick is the Director of Patient and Family Advocacy for The Brain Recovery Project. She is the parent of a child who had hemispherectomy for seizures caused by stroke. Ms. Vernick holds a level 2 certification in Special Education Advocacy Training from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and is certified by The ARC in future planning. She represents The Brain Recovery Project in the Rare Epilepsy Network‘s Adult Transition Taskforce and serves on the Youth Advisory Council for HOBSCOTCH (HOme Based Self-management and COgnitive Training CHanges lives), a behavioral program designed to address memory and attention problems for people who have epilepsy.