Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Budget Cuts, Summer School, and Your Kid's IEP

On May 28th Los Angeles Unified School District became one of many districts across the country to announce that it was cancelling summer school due to budget cuts. Students who would normally be able to attend enrichment programs or intervention programs to address reading or math deficits will be denied such opportunities this year, and most likely next year. LAUSD's cuts mean that only credit-replacement classes for high school students (at a limited number of campuses) will be offered as "regular education summer school."

LAUSD will still of course be offering Extended School Year ("ESY") programs for students whose IEPs include such a program. ESY is mandated in the federal regulations and in California special education laws, so while summer school can be "cancelled," ESY cannot. However, Districts across the country are "limiting" ESY, and more and more parents are hearing for that a program is not available, ESY would not be appropriate, or their child does not require it. We are hearing from parents that say the District checked off a box that says the student "does not require ESY" without even discussing it, or that say that Districts are suddenly making it very difficult for students to "qualify" for ESY.

Here are some ways the budget cuts and summer school cancellations could affect your special needs child:

1) If your child is in an inclusion program (general education) during the regular school year, the District may not have a similar setting available during the summer because regular summer school has been cancelled.

* This is probably the biggest way that parents are going to see a direct impact of the cancellation of summer school. If the school district is only offering SDC's over the summer, and your child is typically in a general education setting, it may not be appropriate for him/her to attend the district's ESY program.

* The lack of an appropriate ESY setting isn't the end of the discussion, however. The IEP team needs to first consider whether the student requires ESY. If the student requires ESY to prevent regression in skills, then the IEP team needs to look at what should be offered and what will be appropriate. Deciding a student doesn't qualify because the District's program isn't appropriate is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

* If the District agrees that the student requires ESY, but admits it has no appropriate setting to offer, then the District is in a difficult position. You may be able to locate a private regular education program for summer school that will provide the continuation of stucture and interaction with peers that your child requires, and you may then be able to advocate for the District to fund such a setting.

* Furthermore, just because the District's placement option doesn't work for your child does not mean that the child is entitled to nothing over the summer. Look at the specific areas in which your child may regress, and see if he/she requires continuation of related services, even if he/she is not attending a summer school classroom setting. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc can be available even if the student does not attend ESY.

2) If your district has limited ESY participation by applying a difficult "standard," you may have a difficult time demonstrating the need for a summer program.

* The typical standard is California cases is that ESY must be provided if the student requires instruction / services during the summer in order to prevent regression that is beyond what a typical student would experience during the break from school. Another possible standard include looking at the nature and severity of the disability, for example considering the fact that a student with autism may need a continuity of structured participation in a classroom setting.

* School districts are applying a more stenuous analysis for the "regression/recoupment" standard. Parents may be faced with IEP teams that say there is "no proof" that the child will regress more than what is typical, or may use indications that the child is meeting IEP goals during the regular school year as indication that ESY is not needed.

* Parents are going to need to come to the IEP meetings armed with information and recommendations to assist them in advocating for ESY. Does your child have an extremely difficult time transitioning to new environments? Argue that this is an indication that the nature of his / her disability requires continuity of services during the summer, and that without ESY the transition to the following school year will cause serious regression. How did your child do after winter break? Previous summer breaks? Use this information as support for ESY this year. Remember that educational benefit is about more than academics, it encompasses "nonacademic" areas like social skills, behavior, etc, and these areas may be good focal points for articulating how your child will regress if not provided appropriate ESY support.

Finally, in general parents should anticipate that this may be happening to their child, and review the IEP document before school gets out. Unfortunately, you may find that the IEP already says your child is not eligible, or the previous IEP may not even speak to ESY. If you need to call another meeting to discuss ESY, now is the time to do it in order to ensure that this issue is brought up before it is too late for this summer.

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