What Is an Extended School Year ESY in a Special Education IEP

Many children making use of special education services during the normal school year have the ability to continue receiving these services into the summer break. Through the Extended School Year (ESY) program, public school districts must come up with plans to continue these special education services through summer, if necessary. Students may receive ESY services during other long breaks in the school calendar as well.

For special education students, the effectiveness of ESY relies significantly on meshing with the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). This means an ESY for one student may include a continuation of speech therapy work. For another student, the ESY could involve continuing the teaching of self-sufficiency skills. Some may end up with in-home skill building. ESY programs rely on individualization.

Through this guide on how ESY works within an IEP, we will fully explain the process that goes into ESY. Understand that because you, as the parent, have an extensive say in how the IEP for your child works, you also will play a role in determining the ESY plan. Learning all you can about ESY will give you the best chance at helping your child have success during the extended break.

Understanding the Role of ESY

The idea of ESY is to help the student maintain and expand progress made during the regular school year. The Brookings Institute reviewed multiple studies regarding the summer break’s effect on student progress. It says, on average, student achievement scores decline by about one month of learning progress over a summer break of a few months. 

I previously spent time as a Special Education Teacher and Autism Specialist in a State of Washington school district. There, I was able to see first hand the benefits ESY programs generated for students. Through ESY, some special education students are able to avoid having a serious regression in their skills over long breaks.

But I also saw how some students did better with at-home work during break times. In fact, some students do better with time off from a formal school session. They can use this break time to apply the behavioral skills they learned during the school year to their everyday lives and in interactions with the community. For some children, this is highly beneficial.

The great thing about the ESY is that it has flexibility. The ESY will give special education students the benefits they need in the manner they need them. 

  • How ESY Works
  • How to Determine ESY Eligibility
  • Methods for Participating in ESY
  • ESY Is Not Meant for Certain Uses

How ESY Works

Understand that ESY is not summer school. ESY is not for students who failed to pass classes. ESY also differs in that schools do not have to offer summer school to their students, but they must offer ESY to those who qualify .

ESY is a program designed to maintain the progress the special education student was making during the school year. It’s an important part of the educational process for these students. 

It is not a continuation of the entire IEP from the normal school year, however. It may include some different programs or an emphasis in different areas versus what occurs during the school year. Its focus is on helping students maintain their skills in areas that work toward self-sufficiency.

ESY Regulations

Regulations related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) initially introduced the expectation for ESY in a 1999 update to the IDEA guidelines, according to the Maryland Disability Law Center. IDEA now defines these ESY services as those services the district provides to a child with a disability using a few different parameters.

  • Going beyond the school year: IDEA requires that the ESY services occur outside of the normal school year. These are extra services that the school provides. 
  • Following the IEP: The ESY must follow the general guidelines of the IEP the school district created and implemented for the student during the main part of the school year. The ESY almost certainly will have some differences from what the school district offers during the year, as long as it continues the general plan and goals for the student from the year.
  • Delivering ESY services at no cost to parents: ESY is free for those students who qualify for special education services. Under the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) guidelines from the federal government, the school district must offer the ESY program for free. 
  • Matching the state standards: Any ESY must meet the standards of the state education agency (SEA). Each state has slightly different guidelines with regards to the implementation of ESY, and the local school district must follow these guidelines.

When to Conduct an ESY Review

For any student who already has an IEP, the school district must also consider whether the student would benefit from ESY. However, not every student who qualifies for special education will also qualify for ESY.

The majority of states require that a school district discusses the student’s potential ESY plan at least once a year, usually at the same time it reviews the IEP. However, if the information required for the ESY is not available or ready at the time of the IEP review, the team will need to hold a separate meeting at a later date to make the determination regarding ESY.

A team of special education teachers, school administrators, and parents and guardians participates in the development of the IEP. By default, this means the same team, including parents and guardians, has a say in the ESY as well. Depending on the age and capabilities of the child, he or she may also participate in the IEP team’s decisions and discussions about the IEP and ESY.

How to Determine ESY Eligibility

To determine whether a student ends up participating in ESY, the team that develops the IEP for each student will try to determine whether ESY would be helpful. School districts cannot deny a student ESY because of the type of disability the student has. The IEP team must focus on whether the student would benefit from the ESY in attempting to retain skills gained during the school year.

The decision about whether a particular student would benefit from ESY is unique for each special education student in the district. Just because the district determined one student needed an ESY this summer, it doesn’t mean a student with a similar disability and age would also need ESY. 

This is why no formula exists for trying to determine whether a student would benefit from ESY. By foregoing a formula, it forces the IEP team to make a determination and decision on each child individually. 

Typically, ESY qualification is determined by collecting baseline data on IEP goal areas and re-evaluating the goals after an extended period of time off (winter break), the team can then determine if a student is at risk for losing information they have been taught and would benefit from ESY services to support with retaining information during school breaks. 

In most states, the parent or guardian can refuse participation in ESY, even if the school administrators believe ESY would strongly benefit the child.

Taking the PLAAFP Into Consideration

Many school districts considering ESY will consider the student’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP). The PLAAFP is a part of the IEP, as it describes the child’s skills and abilities at the time of the first special education evaluation, according to Vanderbilt University’s IRIS Center.

The PLAAFP helps clarify which aspects of the special education system the child may need to use, based on their areas of development. It then measures progress against the initial measurements as the student participates in the special education system. 

Based on the student’s progress during the traditional school year through PLAAFP measurements, the district then will try to determine whether ESY would be of benefit. Some of the criteria the district and IEP team will use to recommend ESY include the following.

  • Measurement of progress: At the time of the annual ESY/IEP review meeting, the team will take a measurement of the progress of the student thus far. The team then will attempt to determine whether use of ESY will help the student continue progressing toward the IEP goals. Or, if the student already met their IEP goals, whether a break from school may be beneficial.
  • Regression during past breaks: The team can look at the student’s level of regression during long breaks from school in past years. Sometimes, the team may even consider a child’s regression during short breaks, such as an extended weekend. The idea is to measure and quantify even small levels of regression to provide the most accurate overall picture. If a student’s regression was greater than desired, the team may recommend the student for ESY during this break, hoping to avoid regression.
  • Speed of recoupment after past breaks: If the student made up the level of regression in past breaks relatively quickly after returning to normal school times, ESY may not be necessary. On the other hand, if the recoupment process was slower than desired, ESY can help the student maintain their skills better through the length of the break, reducing the need for a lengthy recoupment. 

How the student responds to instruction: For a student who responds well to special education services and instructions during the school year, in-school ESY potentially can help the student maintain his or her skills. Students who perform just as well with parental instruction may respond better to an in-home ESY, though.

Methods for Participating in ESY

Because ESY attempts to meet the individual needs of each student so precisely, it also provides multiple options for delivering ESY programming to the students. In addition to determining whether the student needs ESY services, the student’s IEP team should try to determine the best method of delivering these services.

In-Person Services

Larger school districts often will make use of in-person ESY services for delivering special education instruction during breaks. The students would go to school and receive instruction from a licensed staff member. 

The IEP team might select in-person services when it’s clear that a particular student would benefit from instruction from a special education teacher. It is possible to select an in-person ESY option for the equivalent of a full school day or just an hour. Additionally, ESY in-person classes could last for only a fraction of the overall length of the break, or they could last for the entire duration of the break.

Some districts may prefer to use a cluster model, where students from several schools in a city or in an area would all go to a centralized location for in-person ESY. This potentially allows the district to use fewer instructors to handle more students. In a cluster model, the school district would pay for transportation for the students to the centralized location.

Another option that some districts use is to go through an intensive reorientation set of special education classes a couple of days or weeks before the normal school session resumes. This intense session attempts to make up for any regression quickly, giving the child and the family time to enjoy the rest of the summer with other activities.

Direct Consultation

Some districts may suggest a series of consultations throughout the summer break or during a long winter break session. These consultations would occur in lieu of having regular classroom sessions for the special education student.

The student and caregiver would meet with a special education staff member in person, on a video call, or on a telephone call on a regular basis. This could be for a couple of hours once a week, an hour every day, or another setup. The IEP team would come to a consensus on the best way to handle the consultation schedule and format.

Consultation may work well for the student who has a good level of functionality at home, but who also needs some interaction with staff members for the best overall results. Often, the consultation would work in conjunction with in-home skill maintenance instruction, which we’ll discuss next.

In-Home Services

Special education instructors may prepare a series of activities and packets of materials that parents and caregivers can use with the child for an in-home ESY program. These activities can include things such as reading and practicing fine motor activities. 

Some of the activities may include things the child would do with the parent away from the home as well, such as grocery shopping or working on social skills at a park.

The guidelines that accompany the in-home activities would have detailed instructions, ensuring parents can carry them out successfully. There could be a number of different activities involved, each with a focus on a particular area where the child needs to avoid a regression of self-sufficiency skills.

For parents and guardians who may not want the child to attend in-school ESY activities, because they don’t fit in with the family’s needs for the summer break, performing in-home services may be a helpful alternative. Parents and guardians may be able to have some success with these in-home activities versus leaving the child with no ESY for the summer.

Some school districts may allow the family to consider having the child attend an in-person summer camp focused on special education students to provide some of the same benefits as the ESY.

ESY Is Not Meant for Certain Uses

Our guide to ESY includes plenty of explanations of the benefits and implementation of ESY for special education. However, as a parent, it also may be helpful to understand some of the things that cannot happen with ESY.

  • Using it as summer daycare: The school district and the IEP team will not simply recommend ESY for a student because the parent or guardian does not have a care option for the child in the summer. Parents can request that the school district provide ESY for their child or children, but the district does not have to grant this request. 
  • Forcing a child to do ESY: Along those same lines, a single special education teacher cannot say that a child has to participate in ESY. The entire IEP team, including the parent or guardian, must come to a consensus on the best path forward for the child. If you as the parent do not want the child to participate in ESY, you usually can opt out.
  • Making up for failed classes: As we mentioned earlier, ESY is not the same as summer school. Consequently, the district will not offer the ESY as a means of retaking failed classes from the regular school year or as a way to give the student a boost in classes like science or English. 
  • Increasing educational performance upon return: ESY is not meant to give the student an opportunity to work ahead in regular education classes in anticipation of the upcoming year. ESY focuses on avoiding regression in skills aimed at self-sufficiency, not in enhancing general educational performance.
  • Only involving children with significant handicaps: ESY can be beneficial for any special education student. The level of disability for a particular child does not play a role in determining the recommendation of participating in ESY. The decision depends more on the potential for the student to experience regression in self-sufficiency skills.

Additionally, just because a student participated in ESY during past breaks from school does not mean the student will participate again in the future. During the annual review of the IEP and ESY, team members will determine whether to recommend ESY again based on the child’s current status. 

The team almost certainly will use information from past ESY participation to help make the decision for the upcoming ESY. But this past information is not the primary determining factor.


Determining whether your child would benefit from ESY is not always a clear-cut decision. Some students certainly can retain skills better when participating in ESY, but some students benefit even more from a break from school. Every student and situation is unique, which makes it important for the student’s IEP team to work hard to figure out what is best for your child.

Remember, you have a say in your child’s IEP and ESY. You know your child well, and it is important for the school officials and special education teachers to hear your voice. At the same time, you need to listen to and consider the professionals’ opinions. Coming to a consensus with all participants typically will yield the best results for your child’s participation in ESY.

Feel free to leave a comment or question below. You can always email me too! I’d love to hear from you. I’m here to help!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

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I'm happy to help however I can. Email me at hello at behaviorist .com.

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