Designed for negotiations, Trokt finds another purpose in special-needs education

As companies compete to attract parents and kids with back-to-school specials, one Des Moines startup has placed an eye on a piece of the classroom unserved by many startups. 

Trokt, an online platform and mobile application designed to facilitate legal mediation record-keeping, is seeking headway to connect with the families of disabled or special-needs students after the team realized its software addressed major communication problems between guardians, teachers and specialists.

Trokt takes all the communication that previously happened in text messages, emails, voicemails and other formats, and directs team users to a secure web and mobile platform. Originally developed to help labor negotiations between employers and unions, the Trokt team is now working with activists to introduce Trokt to school districts and families of students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 accommodations plan

“The platform is easiest to think about as a legally defensible Google Docs,” said founder Chris Draper. “It allows all the members of an IEP team, which can be on the order of 15 different people representing five different interests, can collaborate on documents, daily journals, action plans, all in one place without the emails, text messages and cloud docs that are generally set up in an insecure way … losing pieces of data that really are pieces of someone’s mental health record. 

“[We can] reduce the time it takes to have every person on the team informed of what’s happening, and what’s working best for those students,” Draper added.  

Trokt can be used in two ways to benefit students: as an action plan put together during regular IEP meetings between school officials and guardians, and as a daily journal between the child’s educator and their guardian, which tracks behavioral or medical episodes the child has during school hours. 

IEPs in Iowa already require developing a plan to provide the child with disability services, measure their progress and keep guardians informed of progress — so while Trokt does not require additional guidelines, the platform securely hosts draft proposals as the IEP team develops a child’s plan, then holds the final IEP on the server for accessibility.

As a daily journal, educators can submit notes through the mobile application on a child’s behavioral or medical incident, which are immediately available to guardians or specialists working with the child. 

Trokt exceeds Google Docs because of its security measures, Draper said. Since the platform was originally developed for legal mediation, all documents developed and stored are encrypted, and the platform uses a fail-safe design — ending service when a connection is not secure so that data stops transmitting. 

“Every single day, there’s a shared space where all the members of the team can put in their notes of what happened … to make sure they’re archiving what the contextual data is around each student’s activity,” Draper said. “So instead of trying to track a thread of five [emails] or five text messages, they can all go to one place.” 

Trokt was founded in 2013, but by 2017, educators working with it during their own negotiations told Draper his product could be a solution to the hours of paper trails teachers and families track down when attempting to manage accommodations for special-needs students.

“This is affecting 67,000 Iowans every year. When you’re talking about individuals with special needs, 6 out of 10 are unemployed when they could be employed,” Draper said. “We’re talking about 8.6 million kids [nationally] per year — 17.5% of Des Moines Public Schools [students] is what we believe the current number is — are being underserved because of a lack of effective communication within these complex teams.” 

Draper says the student population with special needs averages about 12-16% of students per class across the country. 

“So if you have a teacher who has 30 kids in the classroom, [she has] between three to five kids she has to manage every single night if she has parents who have time to be engaged,” Draper said. 

“We had no idea that the problem was so big. We finally said let’s sit down and tell us what you’re talking about,” Draper added. “It turned out our solution, which is a platform built for multiple parties to always be on the same page in developing action-oriented documents, were really very well built for this.” 

Trokt is serving approximately 36,000 special-needs students with an IEP or 504 plan at 187 schools in Iowa, Florida and the Chicago area. Since expanding to serve students, Trokt has revamped the platform’s training materials from a focus on big organizations, such as a labor union, to be directed more at individuals such as parents and teachers who start using Trokt. The platform also offers a pricing structure that takes into account individuals or groups of users, such as a school building, that may manage multiple cases. 

“From our perspective, our core tools aren’t different, but how we provide support is changing,” Draper said. “There’s a lot of work we should be doing in elementary schools to help make sure we’re identifying individuals sooner so we can actually meet their needs sooner, and make sure we deliver support that is both efficient and effective so we’re not overburdening parents or underserving students.”