Pediatric Therapeutic Services

Extended School Year (ESY) Services 101

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, summer 2020 was like no other. But one aspect of summer remained the same for many students receiving special education: Extended School Year (ESY) services.

Schoolboy and girl lie on stomachs in grass, using laptop for extended school year (ESY) programming.Even when delivering these services virtually, which required more agility from related services programs, students with special needs continued to get support for maintaining progress toward their educational goals.

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we don’t know exactly what the 2020-21 school year holds. But we do know a summer break will follow it, and students with disabilities and disorders will again need the services to which they’re legally entitled and on which they depend.

You can play a vital part in making it happen!

We’ve prepared this introduction to extended school year services so you can learn the basics and consider making ESY a part of your plans for summer 2021, and many more summers to come.

What are Extended School Year (ESY) Services?

Elementary school girl sits at laptop wearing headphones, practicing handwriting in extended school year (ESY) session.Extended School Year isn’t “summer school,” day camp, or daycare. The purpose of ESY is to give related services to students who are at risk of regression whenever school is not in session for extended periods of time.

ESY isn’t restricted to summer vacation—an eligible student could receive such services during other school breaks. It is, however, often an effort to halt the notorious “summer slide,” which can particularly threaten students with special needs.

Schools that partner with PTS schedule ESY for four to five weeks during June, July, and August. Exact dates vary by school. During this time, students receive special education and related services as designated in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Seven Frequently Asked Questions About ESY Answered

Who’s eligible for ESY?

Students with current IEPs may qualify for Extended School Year services based on quantitative data and clinical judgment from each service provider.

In Pennsylvania, 22 PA Code § 14.132 and § 711.44 provide guidance for determining ESY eligibility. According to the law, schools should answer seven questions:

  1. Has the student experienced measurable regression after a long break from instruction? (The law doesn’t state specific criteria for calculating regression. Some therapists consider 25% regression grounds for qualification. But, any quantitative data should be interpreted with clinical judgment, and expertise must always accompany any quantitative data).

  2. How easily or quickly will the student be able to recover skills after regression? Consider the student’s past ability to recoup skills following a long break.

  3. Could the student’s tendency to regress specifically affect their ability to maintain progress toward their IEP goals?

  4. Has the student recently mastered or neared mastery of a goal, and would an interruption in instruction affect their ability to maintain the same level of mastery?

  5. Does the student need to maintain a certain crucial skill in order to achieve IEP goals and self-sufficiency?

  6. Have successive interruptions in educational programming resulted in a student’s withdrawal from learning? (In other words, have they left the student confused or frustrated?)

  7. What is the student’s primary disability category (autism, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, etc.), and how severe is it?

Schools need to consider all these factors, although the student may qualify based on only one.

What if I’m “On the Fence” Regarding a Student’s Eligibility?Smiling girl with Down syndrome shows paint-covered hands during extended school year (ESY) activity.

After reviewing the student’s data and documentation and considering the seven questions above, you may still not be sure a student qualifies for ESY.

You don’t need to determine their eligibility on your own!

Present your thoughts to the IEP team for discussion. PaTTAN (Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network) provides a helpful resource. It includes a two-page checklist (pages 16-17) you can use to help determine student eligibility.

When Do I Need to Decide Eligibility? 

Typically, the IEP team determines a student’s eligibility during the team meeting.

Some schools may choose to delay determination for certain students with early-year IEPs. In these cases, the team must later revise the IEP to add ESY services, if appropriate.

ESY determination must be completed for all students by February 28. The Notice of Recommended Education Placement (NOREP) indicating ESY eligibility must be sent home to parents by March 31.

What Goals May ESY Services Address?

When choosing ESY goals, remember: These services exist to help students maintain skills they’ve already learned. Therapists should not expect students to make additional progress toward goals or learn new skills during this time.

Be selective. Choosing not to address all IEP goals during ESY is okay! If the student’s current IEP was newly implemented, you may even choose to target goals from the previous one so the student maintains the same level of mastery. Think about critical skills the student must maintain now to make future progress.

What Happens During and After ESY?

Students attending ESY participate in educational activities throughout the week as they would during the regular school year. Educators may choose to add in fun activities or games as a way to address ESY goals while also keeping students engaged—often a challenge in summer!

ESY school days and weeks are frequently shorter than those in the regular academic year: four-day weeks of three- or four-hour days. Length varies by school.

Conduct therapy sessions as the IEP designates. Collect data as you would during any other session. At the end of the program, complete a progress report for each student.

Help Power ESY for Agile Related Services Programs

Whether provided via school-based teletherapy, as many were in 2020, or in person, ESY services keep students on track toward educational success by making sure they don’t lose ground during the summer.

If you’d like to be part of the PTS team helping agile related services programs deliver ESY services, check out our current open opportunities.

We’re always looking for school-based therapists who’ll give students their best in any season!

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