This week, something hit hard on the home front: Extended School Year services, the limitations the law puts on the wording of these services, and the impact this has on special education students that continue to fall further and further behind their peers in reading, writing or math abilities.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, the big question on whether or not a student qualifies for ESY is “Without continued supports and services, will the student experience a loss of skill(s) that will significantly jeopardize the educational benefits accrued to the student during the regular school year?” (Extended School Year Services Guidance Manual, CDE website, p 10)

The key words in this clarification of the law are “loss of skills.”  In order for a student to lose skills, they have to obtain those skills first.  Unfortunately, many students are not learning those skills in the classroom to begin with, so therefore they do no qualify for ESY.

Back in 2007, I worked with a student who, as a fifth grader, was still reading at a 2nd grade level.  However, the public school would not provide ESY services to this student because she tested each fall at the same level she was when leaving for summer.  Therefore, this student did not suffer a “loss of skills.”  Yet this student was leaving elementary school and getting ready for middle school so her mom asked me to provide some focused reading services to try to bring her daughter up to grade level.  The school was providing some pullout reading services at the time, but they were not advancing her reading even one grade level per year, resulting in a continued increase in the gap with her peers.  Furthermore, mom was informed that these services would not be available in the same capacity at middle school, as they focused more on inclusion at the middle grade levels.  So earlier this week when a family was told the same thing about ESY services for their son, I was reminded that this is a common problem in our schools because the special education law is inadequate.

Consequently, we continue to move these students up in grade level without giving them the remedial assistance they need to be successful in the middle and upper grades.  This is a significant issue in reading, because as a child progresses in grade level, reading becomes more dominate in the requirements for class work.  Much of the work done in both science and social studies requires reading, which means that several academic areas, not just language arts, are impacted by the student’s reading level.

In order for a student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), their individual needs must be met in the least restrictive environment as possible.  Would a student who is more than a few months behind academically need additional services to re-mediate the area in which they are struggling?  Therefore, would FAPE require the school to meet that student’s individual need, which would include a more intense program that extends into summer? Apparently not.