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Extended School Year in Pennsylvania


For many students on the autism spectrum, the transition back to school following breaks in educational programming (like summer or winter break) is not an easy one. Often teachers and parents find that these students have lost social, academic, organizational, behavioral, and other skills during the break that may take weeks or even months to recover. Other teachers and parents may feel that a student on the autism spectrum has lost a valuable opportunity during the break to develop independence and self-help skills.

Extended School Year (ESY) is an option that may help make returning from breaks from school easier and the time off more productive. In Pennsylvania, decisions regarding ESY for students with disabilities must be made by the end of February and information to support an ESY placement must be collected all year long (particularly following summer and winter breaks).

What is ESY?

Extended School Year (ESY) services are special education and related services that are provided to a child with a disability beyond the normal school year, for example, in the summer or during school breaks. If appropriate, students can receive weekend or even virtually continuous programming.

Who decides if a student needs ESY?

The members of a student's IEP (Individualized Education Program) team determine if a student is eligible for ESY. ESY should be considered at section VIII of the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) form provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) for use with preschool-age children who need an IEP and at section VI-E on the IEP form for school-age children. The forms require teams to list the goals to be addressed in the ESY program, as well as the location, frequency, start date, and duration of services.

When is the determination made?

Pennsylvania law states that the IEP team must determine whether a student is eligible for ESY services "at each IEP meeting." In reality, depending on the time of year, many school districts ask parents to postpone the ESY decision until data can be gathered to determine eligibility. If the ESY portion is deferred, the IEP team (including the parents) must reconvene later in the year for the purpose of discussing whether a student qualifies for ESY, and if so, the location, frequency, duration, and goals. ESY must be considered for each student with an IEP regardless of whether the student's parents have requested that their child be evaluated for ESY programming.

For students with a diagnosis of ASD (and for other students within a group known as the "Armstrong Target Group"), the IEP meeting to consider ESY must occur no later than February 28 of each school year. For these children, the Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP), which contains the ESY determination, must be issued by March 31. There is no deadline for students who are not in the target group, but a parent can request an IEP meeting to determine ESY eligibility (or any other issue) at any time.

Who gets ESY services?

ESY services are given to students who need them to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). In considering whether a student is eligible for ESY services, the IEP team must consider the following factors; however, no single factor is determinative.

  1. Regression - whether the student exhibits a measureable decrease in skills or behaviors due to an interruption in education programming;
  2. Recoupment - whether the student is able to recover the regressed skills or behavior patterns fully;
  3. The extent to which the student has mastered and consolidated an important skill or behavior at the break;
  4. The extent to which a skill or behavior is particularly crucial for the student to meet IEP goals of self-sufficiency and independence from caretakers;
  5. The extent to which successive interruptions in educational programming result in the student's withdrawal from the learning process; and
  6. Whether the student's disability is severe.

What proof is needed to get services?

The following sources of information may be considered in determining ESY eligibility:

  1. Progress on goals in consecutive IEPs;
  2. Progress reports maintained by educators, therapists, and others having direct contact with the student before and after interruptions in the education program;
  3. Reports by parents of negative changes in adaptive behaviors or in other skill areas;
  4. Medical or other agency reports indicating degenerative-type difficulties, which become worse during breaks in educational services;
  5. Observations and opinions by educators, parents, and others; and
  6. Results of tests, including criterion-referenced tests, curriculum-based assessments, life skills assessments, and other equivalent measures.

There is no requirement for quantitative data; however, such information is certainly helpful. Furthermore, a parent does not need to show that the student has lost skills in the past. Item 5 allows teams to consider predictive data, such as the opinions of doctors, educators, parents, or others, which are based on their observations of the child or their experience with other children with similar challenges. Regardless of the source of proof, it is critical for IEP team members to come to the IEP meeting prepared to discuss ESY.

What if I disagree with the team's determination of ESY eligibility or services?

Mediation and due process hearings are available and can be expedited when necessary. The pendency provisions of state and federal law apply to ESY eligibility determinations, meaning that a student's eligibility status cannot be changed pending completion of due process procedures.

Where will ESY be provided?

The IEP team determines where ESY will be provided. Nothing prohibits ESY in a noneducational setting, such as a job site or typical camp, if appropriate. ESY is provided in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that is appropriate for the student; however, public agencies are not required to assemble non-disabled students just to make the ESY environment less restrictive.

Is transportation provided for ESY?

Transportation is considered a "related service" and should be considered when determining the need for ESY services. If a student requires transportation to benefit from ESY services, then transportation must be provided.

Is there a charge for ESY?

ESY services, when appropriate, are part of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). There is no charge to the family for these services or for necessary transportation.

What kinds of services are available?

The kinds of services available through ESY are limited only by what is appropriate for the student. ESY programs are not limited to self-help and basic skills. Academic, vocational, and social goals can also be a part of a child's ESY program if appropriate. Services should be individualized to meet the needs of the student.

Additional Resources

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.