When students who receive special education services turn 18 years old, their parents are no longer automatically included in the students’ Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee meetings. However, students may still want their parents to be involved in the ARD committee meetings and decisions about their education. Multiple alternatives can enable parents to stay involved in their child’s educational decisions without placing the student under guardianship.
ARDs Before and After Turning 18
During transition, a student with a disability participates in activities designed to help them achieve their postsecondary goals, like going to college or getting a job. State and federal law require formal transition to begin when a student turns 14 years old. While in transition, a student learns self-advocacy and self-determination skills, and in some cases, may even lead the ARD committee meeting.
Until the student turns 18, the student’s parents must be included in every ARD committee meeting and are considered members of the ARD committee. In that role, parents participate with teachers, administrators, and other school personnel in making decisions about the student’s education. While parents are not the sole decision makers about their child’s education, they are active and equal participants in the ARD committee’s decisions.
However, when a student turns 18, he or she is legally an adult. As an adult, the student automatically becomes the educational decision maker in ARD committee meetings, regardless of disability or level of need. Under the law, all adults have the capacity for decision-making, including students who receive special education services.
Also, when the student turns 18, parents are no longer considered members of the ARD committee and the rights of the parents in the ARD process transfer to the student. At this point, the student and the parent will each receive notices about ARD committee meetings from the school (as required by Texas Administrative Code §89.1049(a) and IDEA, Part B). It is important to understand that ARD committee meeting notices are not an invitation for the parent to attend or participate in the meeting, or to make decisions about the student’s education.
Inviting Parents to ARDs
The adult student or the school can invite parents to attend an ARD committee meeting.
If the student invites the parent, a formal invitation is not required. The parents should tell the school if they plan on attending. However, being invited to attend does not automatically make the parents decision makers. Parents may continue to be involved in educational decisions only with the student’s permission.
Some students may not want to invite parents to the ARD committee meeting, but the parents may ask the school for an invitation. Many schools see the benefit of continued parental participation in the meetings and may invite the parents to attend the meeting even if the student is opposed.
Official Involvement Without Guardianship
Some adult students may choose to make parental involvement in educational decisions official. There are a number of ways to do this that do not require placing the student under guardianship. Two of the simplest ways are by using a supported decision-making agreement or an educational power of attorney:
- Supported Decision-Making Agreement — The student can invite the parent (or another person the student chooses) to enter into a supported decision-making agreement. The agreement allows the parent/person to be included in educational planning meetings and help the student understand the information necessary for the student to make his or her own decisions. The parent or other person does not make decisions for the student. A supported decision-making agreement is a legally valid document and it does not require an attorney or a trip to a courthouse. At the time it is signed, it also must be signed by two other people as witnesses or it can be signed in the presence of a notary public (notarized).
- Educational Power of Attorney — An educational power of attorney is a legal document signed by the student that allows the student’s parent or guardian to be included in all educational planning activities and communications without violating privacy laws. This is a good fit for students who can express their desire to have their parents continue to make educational decisions for them. Some schools can provide an educational power of attorney form and/or a parent can consult an attorney to access legal services. Like other types of powers of attorney, the educational power of attorney must be witnessed or notarized when signed.
These are just two of the options available for a parent to continue to be involved in educational decisions that can affect an adult student who receives special education services. Even though some guardianships are initiated when a student turns 18, a guardianship is not required to keep a parent involved in ARD committee meetings. Under the law, the alternatives described above – and others – must be considered before guardianship. The Texas Estates Code requires evidence that all less-restrictive alternatives, as well as supports and services, have been evaluated before guardianship is considered.