Extended School Year Services

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its regulations do not unequivocally require school boards to provide students with disabilities with special education and related services during traditional school vacations. However, when students with disabilities need extended school year (ESY) programming in order to receive a free appropriate public education, school boards must deliver such programs. Even though most students with disabilities do not require services during school vacations, those with severe disabilities sometimes require programming of this sort. The IDEA and its regulations are silent as to the situations in which school boards must provide ESY programming, but the courts have offered some direction, as summarized in this entry.

Required Option

Courts in three federal jurisdictions quickly established the principle that programming beyond the traditional school year must be an available option. In the first of these cases, a federal trial court in Georgia, later affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit, held that state practices that effectively limited educational programming to 180 days per year violated the IDEA (Georgia Association of Retarded Citizens v. McDaniel, 1981, 1983, 1984). Noting that the IDEA requires the full consideration of the unique needs of each child, the court asserted that any policy that prohibited or inhibited such full consideration violated the statute.

Around the same time, the Fifth Circuit, in a case that originated in Mississippi, stressed that the IDEA did not tolerate policies or practices that imposed a rigid pattern on the education of students with disabilities, but instead favored the development of individualized education programs (IEPs) based on an individual evaluation (Crawford v. Pittman, 1983). The court emphasized that categorical limitations on the length of special education programs were not consistent with the IDEA. Likewise, a federal trial court in Missouri, in an opinion later affirmed by the Eighth Circuit, acknowledged that any policy that refused to consider ESY programming violated the IDEA (Yaris v. Special School District, St. Louis County, 1983, 1984). Subsequent courts recognized the notion that ESY programming is required when it is needed to prevent substantial regression, if the time required for students to recoup lost skills will substantially impede their progress toward meeting the objectives contained in their IEPs. This principle first surfaced in a suit from Pennsylvania in which a federal trial court reasoned that some students with severe disabilities suffered substantial regression during vacation periods and that the time required to recover lost skills was significant (Armstrong v. Kline, 1979, 1980, 1981). The court was convinced that these students would not be given a free appropriate public education unless they received services beyond the traditional 180-day school year.

Defining the Regression Standard

Later opinions refined the regression/recoupment standard. The Fifth Circuit postulated that an ESY program is required when the benefits accrued during the school year may be significantly jeopardized in the absence of a summer program (Alamo Heights Independent School District v. State Board of Education, 1986). The Sixth Circuit observed that regression in the past does not need to be shown to justify the need for ESY programs (Cordrey v. Euckert, 1990). That court acknowledged that the need for ESY programming can be established by expert opinion based on a professional individual evaluation of the student’s needs. Naturally, past regression would help demonstrate the need for an ESY.

Although the regression/recoupment criterion has received almost unanimous acceptance in ESY cases, some courts have looked at additional factors in determining whether students should be given services beyond a traditional school year. In that regard, the Tenth Circuit indicated that the following factors must be considered: degree of impairment, amount of regression, recoupment time, rate of progress, availability of other resources, and the student’s skill level (Johnson v. Independent School District No. 4 of Bixby, 1990).

The regression/recoupment standard does not require school personnel to provide an ESY program in every instance in which a student with disabilities might experience regression. Courts know that regression during the summer vacation is normal for all students. Thus, the courts require school officials to provide ESY programs only when the rate of regression and/or the recoupment time is excessive. For example, a federal trial court in Wisconsin declined to order a school board to provide a summer school program when a student’s regression during the summer months was no greater than that of a child without disabilities (Anderson v. Thompson, 1980, 1981). The court found that the student would not have suffered an irreparable loss of progress without summer school. Similarly, the Sixth Circuit determined that when a child benefits meaningfully from an IEP for a traditional school year, an ESY program would not be obligatory unless those benefits would be significantly jeopardized without summer programming (Cordrey).

The Fourth Circuit pointed out that ESY services are necessary only when the benefits that students with disabilities gain during the school year are significantly jeopardized if they are not provided with educational programming during the summer months (MM v. School District of Greenville County, 2002). It must also be kept in mind that an ESY program is required only to prevent regression, not to advance skills that students have not yet mastered (McQueen v. Colorado Springs School District No. 11, 2006).

Decisions regarding the duration of ESY programs must be made on an individualized basis and may not be made on the basis of length of existing programs (Reusch v. Fountain, 1994). Therefore, the ESY services that school boards provide must be sufficient to realize the objective of preventing regression so that students may continue to make progress during the next school year (J. P. ex rel. Popson v. West Clark Community Schools, 2002).

Allan G. Osborne, Jr.

See also Disabled Persons, Rights of; Free Appropriate Public Education; Individualized Education Program (IEP); Related Services

Legal Citations

  • Alamo Heights Independent School District v. State Board of Education, 790 F.2d 1153 (5th Cir. 1986). 
  • Anderson v. Thompson, 495 F. Supp. 1256 (E.D. Wis. 1980), aff’d, 658 F.2d 1205 (7th Cir. 1981). 
  • Armstrong v. Kline, 476 F. Supp. 583 (E.D. Pa. 1979), remanded sub nom. Battle v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 629 F.2d 269 (3d Cir. 1980), on remand, 513 F. Supp. 425 (E.D. Pa. 1981). 
  • Cordrey v. Euckert, 917 F.2d 1460 (6th Cir. 1990). 
  • Crawford v. Pittman, 708 F.2d 1028 (5th Cir. 1983). 
  • Georgia Association of Retarded Citizens v. McDaniel, 511 F. Supp. 1263 (N.D. Ga. 1981), aff’d, 716 F.2d 1565 (11th Cir. 1983), vacated and remanded, 468 U.S. 1213 (1984) (mem.), modified, 740 F.2d 902 (11th Cir. 1984). 
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. 
  • Johnson v. Independent School District No. 4 of Bixby, 921 F.2d 1022 (10th Cir. 1990). 
  • J. P. ex rel. Popson v. West Clark Community Schools, 230 F. Supp.2d 910 (S.D. Ind. 2002) 
  • McQueen v. Colorado Springs School District No. 11, 419 F. Supp.2d 1303 (D. Colo. 2006). 
  • MM v. School District of Greenville County, 303 F.3d 523 (4th Cir. 2002). 
  • Reusch v. Fountain, 872 F. Supp. 1421 (D. Md. 1994). 
  • Yaris v. Special School District, St. Louis County, 558 F. Supp. 545 (E.D. Mo. 1983), aff’d, 728 F.2d 1055 (8th Cir. 1984).