5 Things for Parents to Address Before the End of the School Year
As June approaches, many IEP teams are busy trying to wrap up the school year. We asked Dr. Sarah Pelangka, special education advocate and owner of KnowIEPs, for tips on what parents need to do before school gets out for summer, including ESY, transitions, school-provided devices or equipment, comp ed, and more.
#1. Sign parts of the IEP relating to ESY
You may not be able to completely finish and sign your child’s IEP before the end of the year, but you can sign the parts that should be in place before summer, like extended school year (ESY).
Dr. Pelangka notes that not every student with an IEP qualifies for ESY; it’s something to discuss with your IEP team. However, all students have the option of attending summer school if they meet the criteria.
The main difference between summer school and ESY is that ESY is designed to prevent kids from regressing by allowing them to maintain the skills they learned during the school year, while summer school is designed to catch kids up who missed learning during the year or accelerate them so they can progress faster. Typically, ESY programs are not full day, and any related services are provided for half the service minutes that are listed on the child’s IEP during the regular school year. The ESY program is likely not going to be taught by your child’s regular teacher or therapists; many districts contract with non-public providers for ESY. In addition, districts do not have to create an inclusive setting if there is not one. Some districts may claim that their summer school is not appropriate for ESY because it is focused on accelerating rather than maintaining learning. Many districts host privately funded summer schools that should be accessible to all students with disabilities at no cost to the family.
Here’s what Dr. Pelangka says to parents who may be concerned about ESY placement: “If the student is primarily in gen ed, and they only have resource pullout, for example, ESY probably wouldn't be the most appropriate as far as this specialized academic instruction component, but they can still attend summer school, just like any other gen ed student would, and they still could have access to their other services. Parents have the option to send their child to ESY. Just because it's offered doesn't mean you have to take advantage of it—it's not required. You can take advantage of portions of it. So let's say they qualify for speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, and their SAI minutes, but you're only wanting the speech and the OT and not the SAI piece. You can take advantage of that. You can have your child attend gen ed summer school and also still have access to their speech and OT.”
#2. Prepare for transitions
The end of the school year is also a good time to lay the groundwork for next year, especially if your child is moving to a new school. Here are Dr. Pelangka’s three tips for working with your IEP team on transitions before school gets out for summer:
Get service minutes in place in the IEP.
Dr. Pelangka recommends that IEP teams “at least agree upon the areas in which goals are needed… at least kind of getting a feel for what the recommended minutes would be and trying to get that settled out and hash out the schedule. That's really the biggest piece. Particularly for middle school and high school, you really want to try to have the schedule set because it's hard. If you change one period, it may change the whole day. If it's elementary school, it's a lot more flexible. If you can't agree on goal areas, then that's obviously a bigger issue because that could completely impact services all together. That would then lead to maybe a disagreement in what classes the student should be in, so you can also request to meet over the summer. I know district staff work over the summer, it just may not be a full team, right? And so you can try to at least hash it out through an administrative amendment, if need be. Or, of course, just try to hold the IEP meeting as soon as possible; maybe you request to meet those few days before the first day of school with the new team. There are options—you just have to work with the team to kind of figure out how to move forward.”
Introduce your child’s current IEP team and their new team, if possible.
Dr. Pelangka says, “You can request to be a part of that meeting. It doesn't have to be a full IEP meeting—it could just be something a little bit less formal, if you're just wanting to make sure that they at least talk to one another and familiarize the new team with your child. If you want it to be very formal, and you want things documented, of course, then you would call a full IEP, which might be a little harder to fit in. But I definitely recommend having that happen.” If your child will have multiple teachers,“it's not required to have every teacher in the IEP meeting. They're not necessarily going to have a chance to meet every single teacher, but the case manager would be the primary person to ensure that the new case manager is meeting the old case manager, and they're having that conversation, and then the new case manager’s overseeing all these other teachers.”
Ask your current IEP team to help introduce your child to their new team.
The end of the school year is a great time to ask your child’s teachers and providers for tips on what works with your child and what doesn’t. Then, you can include that information in your IEP at a Glance or in a letter to the new teachers briefly introducing your child and explaining what their strengths and needs are. This type of communication can be great because your child’s teachers will get feedback from other professionals in addition to you as the parent, and they’ll know exactly who they can go to with questions.
For more information about transitions, check out our article Moving to a New School? Here's What to Know About Transition IEPs.
#3. Confirm whether your child can keep school devices and/or equipment over the summer
For students who use school-provided standers, iPads, Chromebooks, AAC devices, FM systems for hearing aids, etc., Dr. Pelangka says that the right to keep those devices over the summer is protected if the equipment is necessary for the student to access a free, appropriate education (FAPE).
If your child can keep their device during ESY but not during the month-long gap before the next school year, talk to your IEP team about your concerns about regression or your child losing access to communication. Dr. Pelangka says, “If there's any concern that your child's device is going to be taken away, for whatever reason, you can definitely put it in writing and see what the district's response is if they're going to require an IEP meeting in order for your child to continue to have access over summer….There are things that you can say as a parent to sway the district into understanding why it's a continued need, but you do have to prove that they need it in order to access FAPE. That's the way that the law is written.”
#4. Address the need for compensatory ed
#5. Know how to review the IEP before signing
Whether you’re just signing parts of the IEP or the entire document before the end of the school year, it’s vital to take time to read it thoroughly. Don’t sign the IEP at the meeting; take it home to read through a few times, take notes, and check everything for accuracy.
For more tips on how to review the IEP before signing and what to do if you’re in conflict with your IEP team, check out this article.
To hear more advice for closing out the school year, you can catch the full recording and transcript of our Q&A event End of Year Wrap-Up with Dr. Pelangka.