Newton mom creates AI toolkit to help families navigate special education

Karen Gage, a Newton parent and education technology specialist, has launched a new product called KidvoKit to support parents of special needs children in managing their child’s education.

It organizes documentation from the school into an easy to read binder, as well as having an AI assistant that can answer parents’ questions about Massachusetts special education policies.

The program, which was released in April, is currently being used for an initial test year by 250 Massachusetts families.

“I hope it provides more transparency for families, and that they feel confident and comfortable in asking what their kids need,” said Gage.

Public schools are legally required to offer assistance to students with disabilities. Getting students the supports they need, however, can be a long and drawn out process.

Gage learned this after her son was diagnosed with dyslexia, and she had to fight with the school district to get him what he needed. She decided to create this tool to help parents who are overwhelmed by the massive amounts of paperwork and information.

“It’s always hard when you have a child who’s struggling in school. It’s hard for parents – they’re not educators, and they don’t know how special education works. Most parents are kind of lost,” she said.

KidvoKit aims to demystify the process of both getting an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and of keeping track of the documentation needed to keep a child going on the right path.

By syncing with a parent’s email, it stores and labels different materials, and allows a parent to see their child’s timeline laid out.

Gage also says she hopes KidvoKit can demonstrate “potential for thinking about how AI can solve problems.”

She benefited from having a paid advocate for her son but knows that not all parents can afford to pay for one. The AI assistant can answer common questions about the very complex education laws that are often written in difficult to understand language, and Gage hopes this can bridge the gap between parents doing it all by themselves and needing to hire an advocate.

About 18% of students in Newton Public Schools have a disability, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, although not all students with disabilities received an IEP. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires all children to have a free and appropriate public education. While schools cannot make a medical diagnosis of a disability, students do not need to have a medical diagnosis for a school to offer them special education services, as Gage notes on her blog.