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Advocacy Strategies:
Negotiating for ESY Services
by Pete & Pam Wright,

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If your child needs Extended School Year Services (ESY) but the school does not want to provide these services, you need to learn about the legal requirements for ESY and how to use advocacy strategies to negotiate with the school.

Your Parental Role

As a parent, you negotiate with the school on your child’s behalf. To negotiate successfully, you need information about:

  • Your child’s disability
  • our child's rights and your rights & responsibilities
  • How your child learns and needs to be taught
  • How to measure and monitor your child's progres

If you have a disagreement about ESY services, you need to learn about your state standards for ESY.

Do not accept legal advice from school personnel. While school staff may believe what they tell you is correct, educators are not legal experts. Most school staff have not actually read the statute, regulation, or current caselaw on a specific legal issue. You need to read the law for yourself, not rely on an interpretation of it by another person.

Get Your State ESY Manual or Standards

Contact your state department of education (Directory of State Department of Education) and request two copies of your state's ESY Manual or ESY Standards (one for you and one for your child's team).

Tip: This information may be available on the website of your state department of education.

Go through your state's ESY Manual or Standards to learn the standards your state adopted. Dog-ear or put Post-It notes on pages so you can find relevant information quickly. Mark the text in your copy with a highlighter.

Legal Requirements Vary

Nearly 30 years ago, In Daniel Lawyer v. Chesterfield (VA) Board of Education (E.D. VA 1993), the Judge listed several factors that IEP teams should consider when making decisions about ESY:

  • Recoupment in the Fall
  • Window of opportunity to learn emerging skills
  • Child's rate of progress
  • Child's behavioral or physical problems
  • Availability of alternative resources
  • Areas of the child's curriculum that need continuous attention
  • Vocational needs

In Reusch v. Fountain, (U.S. MD 1994), the court listed six factors the IEP team should consider in deciding if the child is eligible for ESY:

  1. Regression and recoupment - is the child likely to lose critical skills or fail to recover these skills within in a reasonable time
  2. Degree of progress toward IEP goals and objectives
  3. Emerging skills/breakthrough opportunities - Will a lengthy summer break cause significant problems for a child who is learning a key skill, like reading
  4. Interfering Behavior - does the child’s behavior interfere with his or her ability to benefit from special education
  5. Nature and/or severity of disability
  6. Special circumstances that interfere with child’s ability to benefit from special education

Over the years, federal courts have issued similar rulings on the factors schools must consider in ESY cases. Your State Department of Education may publish an ESY Manual or similar publication that clarifies the standards in your state.

Meet with Your Child's Team

Schedule a meeting with your child's team to discuss your child's need for ESY. Since prepartion is the key to success, you need to prepare for this meeting.

Make copies of Standards for Extended School Year by Nissan Bar-Lev for members of your child's team. Since Dr. Bar-Lev is a respected director of special education, your team is more likely to accept what he has written.

You should also bring two copies of your state's ESY Manual or Standards. Give one copy to the team leader. Your copy looks well-read - pages are tabbed or have Post-It notes, and are marked up with a highlighter.

The Need to Save Face and How to Use the "Columbo Strategy"

If your child's team has already taken the position that your child does not need ESY services, and it becomes clear they were wrong, you need to give them a way to change their position while also saving face.

As one parent learned in How I Got ESY Services After the School Said No, it is helpful to ask questions and use the Columbo Strategy.

To learn more about these issues, Read Chapter 4: Learning the Rules of the Game, Chapter 5: Obstacles to Success and Chapter 25: Preparing for Meetings in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition.

Next, read How to Solve Parent-School Problems and Protect Relationships.

Learn more about Extended School Year (ESY) Services

Learn more about the parent as expert and
special education advocacy.

About the Authors

Peter W.D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright were Adjunct Professors of Law at the William and Mary Law School where they taught a course about special education law and advocacy and helped to develop the Law School's Special Education Law Clinic.

They are co-authors of several books published by Harbor House Law Press including Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1-892320-16-2); Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition (978-1-892320-09-4); Wrightslaw: All About IEPs (ISBN: 978-1-892320-20-9); Wrightslaw: All About Tests and Assessments, 2nd Edition with Melissa Farrall; and produced the award-winning documentary, Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board DVD Video.

The Wrights built several websites to help parents of children with disabilities in their quest for quality special education programs. They also publish The Special Ed Advocate, an online newsletter.

Revised too many times to count, including on 07/20/22

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