The pandemic brought special education to the forefront of the dialogue about education, with the media focus mainly directed at sharing stories of students separated from the in-school supports that they had come to rely upon, and parents struggling to plug the gaps.

Virtual schools can serve students with special needs—and do it well


Understanding the difference between “therapy delivered over videoconferencing” versus a teletherapy platform is essential for success

The pandemic brought special education to the forefront of the dialogue about education, with the media focus mainly directed at sharing stories of students separated from the in-school supports that they had come to rely upon, and parents struggling to plug the gaps.

While the challenges were undeniable, there was also a more quietly growing chorus of stories from parents whose children experienced virtual education for the first time and found that the personalization and environmental stability it brought led to positive outcomes. When it comes to serving students with disabilities, a fully virtual school experience may, at the outset, seem like a less than ideal or even an improbable concept. But there can be compelling benefits.

“When I first began working with students virtually, I was skeptical that the therapeutic environment could be replicated online,” said Robin Corder, EdS, NCSP, who won the Idaho School Psychologist of the Year Award in 2020. “I was very wrong about that.”

As a whole, parents often cite flexibility, convenience, the ability to focus, and reductions in bullying, health risks, and social anxiety as reasons for choosing virtual schools. With more districts offering virtual options for families, serving children with disabilities should be at the top of their priorities, and it’s worth underscoring what can be learned from the infrastructure and experiences of established virtual models.

Setting Standards for Virtual Schools

Research attributes approximately 40 percent of the enrollment drop in traditional public schools to the corresponding increase in enrollment in established virtual school programs.

Kate Eberle Walker

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