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Transferring Special Education Rights from Parents to Students

In special education law, parents hold a student’s educational decision-making rights until they transfer to the student.  Students with disabilities have many rights connected to special education and related services.  This publication explains how special education decision-making rights transfer from parents to students, the definition of a “parent” in special education law, rights of students once transfer occurs, and rights the student has when preparing for transition out of high school.  This publication is based on Washington State and federal law and assumes the reader has basic familiarity with the special education Individualized Education Program (IEP) process.

What is the process for a student to take over their educational decision-making?

At least one year before a student turns 18, the student’s IEP must contain a statement that says the student has been informed of what rights will transfer to the student upon reaching age 18.  Unless certain circumstances apply (explained below), when a student turns 18, a student’s educational rights are transferred from the parents to the student. Students who hold their own education rights can authorize any adult to make educational decisions for the student by using a power of attorney.  A power of attorney is a document granting a competent adult the authority to make certain decisions on the behalf of another competent adult.

Who is a “parent” for purposes of special education law?

A “parent” is defined as:

After the age of 18, if a student holds their own educational rights, the student is considered a “parent” for the purposes of special education law.

Prior to transfer of rights, parents have the opportunity to observe the student in a school setting to better understand the strengths and needs of the student. All school districts must have a policy in place that outlines school procedures for allowing these observations.

What can prevent a student from having their special education rights transferred to them?

In some situations, students who are 18 or older do not hold their education rights, but this only happens if the student has a court-appointed guardian or if a certification process is followed.  If a court has appointed a legal guardian for the student, the guardian will represent the student’s educational rights.  Also, students who do not have appointed guardians may be certified for one year as unable to make educational decisions if two separate professionals state in writing that they have conducted a personal examination or interview with the student, the student is incapable of providing informed consent to make educational decisions, and the student has been informed of this decision.  If this certification happens, the school district will assign an educational representative to the student.  Certification of a student’s inability to make educational decisions can be challenged at any time by the student or an adult with a real interest in and knowledge of the student.

What rights do students get when they take over their educational rights from their parents?

A student who holds their own educational rights has all the rights their parents had, including the right to:

What rights does a student receiving special education services have when preparing for life after high school?

Schools must help students receiving special education and related services prepare for life after high school by providing transition services.  Transition services are designed to prepare students for activities after high school like postsecondary education, vocational education, employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation.

By age 16, a student’s IEP must include measurable postsecondary goals based on age-appropriate transition assessments and must describe transition services needed to help the student reach those goals.  This transition planning may occur before age 16 if the IEP team determines this is appropriate.  Students must be invited to IEP meetings whenever the purpose of the meeting is to discuss postsecondary goals and transition services.  For more information on transition services, visit the Center for Change in Transition Services website [1].


The Administration for Community Living (ACL) provided federal funding for the cost of producing this publication (Award #1701WAPADD). The contents are the sole responsibility of Disability Rights Washington and do not necessarily represent the official views of ACL.


This information is current as of: May 2017


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