Growing numbers of students need special education services. Yet there are fewer qualified clinicians who are willing and able to work in school buildings full time.

There is a new solution that exists, one that many other sectors have embraced: A hybrid, more flexible workforce.

The number of students deemed to need special education services increased by nearly a million students over the last decade, and it now makes up 15 percent of all public school enrollments.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 19 percent growth in demand for speech language pathologists and a 12 percent growth in demand for occupational therapists over the next decade.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than two-thirds of public schools have reported increases in students seeking mental health services.

The effects of these strains on resources are far-reaching. Students and families are left waiting for critical services, while staffers are faced with ever-growing caseloads that lead to burnout and, in some cases, departure from the profession. Students in low-income areas are already the least likely to have access to special education and early intervention services — a challenge exacerbated by staffing shortages.

Teletherapy services, provided online via live videoconferencing, were commonly used during the pandemic months when schools were shuttered and students needed connection with their therapists.

Once clinicians learned how to work online, many embraced teletherapy, finding that it brought focus to their time with children and offered exciting new ways to engage in their sessions. A significant number of U.S. public school districts relied on it to provide critical special education services including psychological evaluations, speech therapy and occupational therapy to their students.

But when schools reopened, many prioritized a return to fully in-person services. Even though clinicians were ready to change how and where they worked, most schools were not. In discussions I’ve had with school leaders, many regarded teletherapy as an emergency stopgap, and in my view, that was a mistake.

Returning to the old ways of doing things just hasn’t worked. Many schools that dug in on resuming in-person services with no exceptions have been unable to fill vacancies across their special education teams.

Read the full article about special education providers by Kate Eberle Walker at The Hechinger Report .