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While many schools are planning to reopen this fall, it’s clear that things are not going back to normal. The latest rounds of COVID-19 funding relief are also opening up opportunities for schools to navigate a changed world and, in some cases, build back more sustainable solutions. The American Rescue Plan[1], passed into law on March 11, 2021, provides approximately $122 billion for K-12 schools in the United States to reopen safely and help students get back on track through the end of 2023. Why such sweeping measures? The work ahead is consequential.

Planning for 20212022 & Beyond

Looking ahead, school models are likely to range from not opening at all to fully opening, from hybrid schedules to accommodations for families who choose to stay remote, and from staff excited to get back into the classroom to staff choosing to work remotely. In the field of special education and related services, teletherapy is a key piece for solving this complex puzzle—and during the past year, many in the school community have turned from skeptics to believers of this approach.

According to a recent study conducted by the RAND Corp[2], two in ten districts have already adopted, plan to adopt, or are considering adopting virtual school as part of their district portfolio after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among a number of reasons, district leaders cited student and parent demand for continuing various forms of online instruction. During the pandemic, schools witnessed a number of student benefits of the live, online modality, including some students who responded well to virtual therapy and some who were grateful that the virtual option enabled therapy to happen privately. Students no longer needed to be “pulled” away from class.

Deborah Daugherty, lead speech-language pathologist (SLP) in Chatham County Schools, described some students who flourished using teletherapy, where they had previously been struggling during in-person services. One student she works with who is on the spectrum sprung to mind.

“He was always very resistant to working together in class,” she said. “When we started working this year with PresenceLearning, he was able to attend. He likes being on the computer, so talking to me through the computer and using headphones at home really broke down those hurdles. His cooperation has carried over to the classroom now that we are doing hybrid services.”

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Skeptical would be an understatement. I thought students would need in-person therapy to build relationships with their therapists and make progress. But, I was very wrong about that.

Lori Pate, Assistant Principal, Kershaw County School District

Opening Up Equity and Access For Students with Remote Services

There are a number of compelling benefits of remote services delivered on a high-quality platform. PresenceLearning’s platform, designed for clinicians by clinicians, enables the district’s clinical teams to serve students continuously at home or school. Many districts who were already working with PresenceLearning before the pandemic, grew their partnership during the pandemic to reach more students at home, while other districts needed a teletherapy platform for the first time and turned to PresenceLearning for help.

“We had been using a combination of two online video conferencing tools, but they simply did not have the instructional functionality to support our programs,” said Melvin Diggs, who has served as executive director of Chatham County Schools Exceptional Children (EC) and Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) programs for the past two years.

There were other insights that emerged for schools, including increased efficiencies in time and reach. With teletherapy, providers don’t need to travel from home to school or from school to school, so they can spend more time with students than driving. Commuting also takes a toll on students, with participation levels taking a hit.[3] This is particularly true in a rural district, where school districts have a hard time retaining related service providers and where schools often grapple with distance between school locations.

A “new normal” is ahead in education…

For many school districts, the ongoing use of remote servuces can help meet every student where they are. Are you looking to open up access to remote services for your students now and in the future?

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