Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: Can I Call an IEP Meeting After My Son Turns 18?

You’ve supported and advocated for your son or daughter all through elementary, middle, and the start of high school. What happens when your “child” is legally an adult? Find out, here.

Q: My son is 18 years old and in 12th grade. He’s had an IEP in place since 1st grade, when he was first diagnosed, but now he is failing his core subjects. It feels like the school is biding its time until he drops out. He’s frustrated by the lack of progress he has made. Do I still have rights as a parent to call an IEP meeting now that he’s legally an adult? — Hands Tied

Dear Hands Tied:

I am sorry to hear that your son’s school isn’t giving him the help he needs. It’s not surprising that he is feeling frustrated. You’ve raised a number of important issues that many families encounter, so let’s look at them one by one and then come back to see what the best path might be for your son.

First, you are right that it is your son who needs to ask for an IEP meeting. Once a student is legally an adult under the laws of their state (usually 18 years old), all rights under the IDEA transfer to the student, including the right to ask for an IEP meeting. The only situation where this would not apply is when a student has a guardian appointed or otherwise does not have the ability to provide informed consent with respect to his education (which can be the case for students with significant disabilities). Schools are required to provide families with notice of this transfer of rights from parent to student at least a year before it becomes effective.

Second, it sounds like your son’s school has completely dropped the ball on an important requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires special consideration for students who are approaching graduation, a process referred to as transition. The transition plan process is supposed to be in place by the time a student turns 16 (even earlier in some states), so it is long overdue for your son.  The IEP team for transition age students is required to review things like:

  • how many credits a student has accumulated
  • what the student’s goals are for after high school
  • what the student needs before graduation to be successful

[Quiz: How Well Do You Know Special Ed Law?]

Your son does not lose his right to special education under the IDEA because he is legally an adult. His services continue until he graduates high school with a regular diploma (not a certificate of completion or other graduation certificate) OR reaches the age when your state no longer provides a public education for all students (usually age 22), whichever happens first. Until one of those events occurs, he can continue to receive educational services – attend school, get remedial and supportive services, and accumulate credits.

I’d immediately set up a meeting with your son’s guidance counselor – requested by your son and with you joining the meeting. This can happen more quickly than arranging an IEP meeting and you can use this preliminary meeting to explore where he stands with respect to grades and credits towards graduation.  You should also ask about what options there may be for him to continue his education in alternative schools in your district or in another district-supported program for students working towards their full diploma.

In the meantime, your son should request an IEP meeting as soon as possible (and you certainly can help him with this, so long as the request is made in his name and he signs any documents). You can and should attend that meeting with him. Failing to pass core subjects should definitely be an issue for any IEP meeting, especially when the school should be providing extra guidance as part of his transition plan and to life beyond high school.

If he is failing his core subjects, it is likely that your son is not on track to graduate with his class. He should advise the school that he wants to take advantage of his right to continue his education and will object to being “rushed out the door” without a full diploma and sufficient education and training to be successful after high school.

[The Bittersweet Transition: Preparing Your Teen for Life After High School]

Of course, getting a teenager to agree to not graduate with his class and to remain in high school for an additional period may be difficult, if not impossible. You might want to speak to your son about the benefits of getting his high school diploma. If he is considering dropping out, he should be aware of the lower income and higher unemployment rates faced by those who don’t graduate.

The IEP team should be reminded that they have a legal obligation to work with your son until he has graduated and that they have already failed in their obligation to provide transition services to him. This may get them focused on what needs to be done to help your son. Ideally, they will come up with a plan (extra help, summer school, or other services) to help him bring up his grades and get what he needs to graduate on time. They may also agree to an alternate setting where he can complete his education and graduate with a regular diploma, fully ready to take on the next steps of his life and education. If your school isn’t cooperative in meeting their obligations to your son, you may mention that you are considering hiring an attorney with experience in special education to protect your son’s rights – and then do so.

Do you have a question for ADDitude’s Dear Teen Parenting Coach? Submit your question or challenge here.

The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.