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ExceptionAlly Helps Parents Navigate the Labyrinth of Educational Needs

The challenges faced by parents of children with special needs are always unique, but in a way, they are very similar: to ensure that children get what they need in schools are much more difficult. ExceptionAlly is a new startup that aims to help parents understand, organize and communicate all the information they need to make sure their child gets the help they need.

"There are millions of parents trying to navigate special education, and parents with special needs should have access to more information than a school does." said, co-founder and CEO of ExceptionAlly, Rayford Davis. "Those who can afford to hire special education lawyers, but those who are few and far between. We thought, how can we democratize this? So we try to do what TurboTax has done for CPA: provide a significant percentage of value for a small percentage of the cost. "

The company just came out of Y Combinator and continues its full rollout before this school year, with a surge of visibility during the usual dates back to school. It is still early, but Davis tells me that they already have thousands of users who take advantage of the free and paid aspects of the service.

It's not because a parent has a child with dyslexia, hearing loss or physical disability that he suddenly becomes an expert of the resources he has for his children – what is required by law, which school offers voluntarily, and so on. Achieving mastery of these complex issues is a big question in addition to all the usual parental duties – and on top of that, parents and schools are often put in conflicting positions.

There are certainly resources for parents, but they are scattered and often require a lot of effort on the part of the parents. The primary objective of the service is to educate and structure parents' information about the systems they deal with.

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Based on information provided by the parent, such as the conditions or needs of his child, and other information such as school district, state, etc., the platform helps the parent to understand the condition itself. of a school, and what are their rights. This could be as simple as placing a child in the front row of a classroom to find out how often the school should share reports on that child's progress.

Parents rarely know the range of housing that a school can offer, says Davis, and even the schools themselves may not know or explain properly what they can or must provide if they are given request.

For example, an IEP, or an individual education plan, and annual goals are required for each student with special needs, as well as meetings and progress reports. These are often skipped or, if not, done in an automated way that is not personalized.

Davis said that by helping parents to collaborate with the school and the teacher on IEPs and other facets of the process, they are accomplishing several things. First, the parent feels more confident and involved in the education of his child, having brought something to the table. Second, less pressure is put on overworked teachers to produce these things in addition to all that they have to do. And third, it allows or forces schools to provide all the resources they have.

Of course, this whole process produces tons of documents: assessments, draft plans, lesson lists, observations, reports, and so on. "If you talk to a parent of a child with special needs, they will tell you how they have filing cabinets filled with paperwork," Davis said.

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ExceptionAlly will allow you to scan or send all these documents, which helps you to organize in different categories and find if you need it. A search feature based on text OCR processing is under development and should be in place for the second half of the upcoming school year, which Davis has pointed out is really when it becomes necessary.

It is, he says, that parents must make schools accountable. Being informed both of the child's progress and what the school is supposed to do allows the resulting process to be collaborative rather than combative. But if the latter approaches, the platform has resources that parents can deploy to ensure that schools do not dominate the power equation.

"If things progress in this way, there is an" action toolbox "for developing communications with the school," Davis said. Ideally, you do not want to be the threatening parent of the lawsuit or call the principal at home. A timely reminder of what has been agreed upon and a push to keep things on track keeps it positive. "It's kind of a reminder that we should all be on the" kid's team ", if you will," he added.

The schools, unfortunately, were not very eager to collaborate.

"We spent about six months talking to over a hundred schools and districts.What we found was not a lot of energy to provide to parents more information than what the school was already providing, "explained Davis


The sad truth is that many schools are already deep in the administration, teachers are overworked and have new responsibilities every year, and the idea of ​​volunteering does not even strike not the most well-intentioned schools. an attractive. Instead, ExceptionAlly is focused on going directly to parents, who, confident and well armed, can bring their case to the school on their own.

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"Listen, we are not ready to solve all education today with our solution.We will find a mother who says," I know there are more there- Low, can anyone help me find it? "Yes, we will help you do that," he said. "Could this put pressure on the system? As long as it is doing it legally and legally, I am totally in agreement to defend the legal rights of children and parents and put pressure on the system for what it gives them what the law deserved. "

After the official launch before this school year, the company plans to continue to add features. The rich text search is among them, and a deeper understanding of the documents could both help automate storage and retrieval and also lead to new ideas. At some point, there will also be an optional program to submit information about a child (anonymously, of course) to help create a database of places and cases leading to which results – essentially aggregate information directly from source.

ExceptionAlly has free content to check if you are curious about whether this might be helpful for you or someone you know, and there are a variety of paid options if it seems to you to be a good fit.