Special Ed Services Amidst COVID—How One District Does It

Ukiah Unified School District in California is no stranger to extended school closings. In the last three years, it has experienced closings due to wildfires, smoke from a nearby wildfire, flooding, and long-term power outages. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the district to move to remote learning instead of onsite instruction, has led the district to expand its partnership with PresenceLearning, the leading provider of live online special education-related services to K-12 schools.

 As Ukiah Unified School District shifts to online learning, PresenceLearning has transitioned its current speech-language services to in-home delivery, and provided tele-therapy training and its online therapy platform to the district’s school-based clinical teams so they can also continue delivering services to students at home.

 “Our priority is focusing on students’ goal areas and ensuring we provide the services aligned with those areas,” said Sierra Lahera, director of special education at Ukiah Unified School District. “As a district, we are looking at this as an opportunity to not only innovate on our instructional methods, but to reflect and learn best practices that we can use moving forward as well.”

 “We’ve seen our partners at Ukiah truly embrace the goal of serving their students as continuously as possible, whether through wildfires, COVID-19, or anything that gets in their way. Being offsite doesn’t stop them from being a supportive presence for the students in their special education programs. Their approach, and the work they’ve put into building a flexible service model, will serve them well no matter what uncertainties come in the future,” said PresenceLearning CEO Kate Eberle Walker.

Ukiah Unified School District started working with PresenceLearning in 2018 to provide speech-language therapy services to students. Prior to remote learning, 180 students spread across all Ukiah Unified schools were receiving tele-therapy this school year.

The district has 35 of its special education team members, including speech-language therapists, special education teachers, occupational therapists, and counselors, going through PresenceLearning’s tele-therapy training program which includes a live online training session and daily office hours with the company’s clinical experts, plus access to PresenceLearning’s proprietary Telehealth Institute of self-guide training modules. From there, Ukiah Unified School District’s team has access to PresenceLearning’s award-winning, tele-therapy platform designed to engage students remotely and meet their needs while at home. Educators and parents are cohesively working together to ensure students’ needs are met.

 “Even under these extremely difficult times, I see a silver lining,” said Lahera. “Because the District has invested heavily in technology infrastructure, equipment and training over the years, we are as prepared as we can be for this crisis. Both our special education teachers and our students are using technology to move forward on the goals of our students’ IEPs.  It is providing the opportunity for our special education students to gain new experiences and skills that will help prepare them for future careers. This will have a long-term impact on our students’ success in life.”



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