One of our clients, Charlie (name changed), is a 10th grader at Roxborough High School, and a gifted artist. He loves drawing and taking art classes. He also faces challenges in school. He has autism and a severe language disorder. When school lets out for three months over the summer or for a long holiday break, kids like Charlie may need services because they are learning a crucial skill to be more independent or they may revert to lower functioning without services.
Under federal law, students with disabilities may be eligible to receive Extended School Year (ESY) services. They might need services every day during a holiday break, or for a few hours five days a week during the summer, or all day for three days a week for six weeks. It all depends on each student’s individual unique needs. School districts are required to work with the parents of students and their Individual Education Plan (IEP) teams to individually determine the appropriate ESY program for that student.
Our other client Evan (name changed) is a 13-year-old at Stephen Decatur School. He has a learning disability. He needs assistance with reading when school is closed. And there’s Jose*, a 14-year-old at Hill Freeman School. Jose’s parents paid out of pocket for occupational therapy, speech therapy and other services during last summer because the District’s one-size fits all program didn’t meet his needs.
Charlie first came to us for help because his mom was concerned that he wasn’t receiving any ESY services and she was paying for services for him during summer breaks. After representing him individually, and other clients, we realized that the School District of Philadelphia is unilaterally predetermining the hours and time frame for provision of ESY services to students.
The district should be working with each student’s IEP team to determine the length of services, number of hours and days of ESY services a student needs during each school break.
In the case of both Charlie and Evan, an administrative hearing officer has already found that the district is out of compliance with special education law because it is using a “standard-program-first rather than an individual-first approach.”
We approached the district about this issue and warned them that their current practice is out of compliance with the law, but more than six months later, they have done nothing to remedy the problem. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has issued guidelines supporting this interpretation of the law, but the District continues to ignore those requirements.