COVID-19 safety guidance has been relaxed and schools have returned to in-person learning, but it’s not yet time to breathe a sigh of relief. Many schools continue to encounter challenges in effectively serving their students, faced with special education staff shortages, backlogs of evaluations, and a youth mental health crisis.
Before the pandemic, a complex web of restrictions limited the ability of schools to leverage online services. From professional associations to state licensure boards, virtual therapy and evaluation services were discouraged or prohibited. In some cases, new graduates were prevented from obtaining their necessary practice hours through remote work. Many states imposed extensive barriers to allowing a licensed therapist to serve students across a state border, slowing down the ability to serve students through teletherapy.
These boards and associations then moved quickly to lift restrictions and clarify guidance to prioritize serving children in need. But as often happens in times that call for rapid action, these changes were made with a short-term mentality. Most of the removal of barriers to teleservices was done through temporary waivers and allowances, rather than taking action to permanently include remote and online services as a solution to serving the growing number of students with special education or mental health needs. These decision makers did not imagine the long-lasting impact of the pandemic, and they did not anticipate the evolution of educational services to a more technology-forward model.
Today, more than two years after most of these waivers and temporary orders were activated, many are in limbo, and some have expired. Without permanent policy, schools are finding themselves right back where they started, with staffing shortages that limit them from providing all of the services their students need, and the inability to turn to online services to help relieve the pressure.
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