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Transfer of Parental Rights: The Impact of Section 615(M) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act


Section 615(m) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) permits states to transfer the rights accorded parents to adult students with disabilities. While some students, parents, and educators may seize the “transfer of rights” as an opportunity for growth and empowerment as students transition into adulthood, for many others it is a consequential crossroads for choosing between risking to close avenues for enforcing students with disabilities’ educational rights in the short term and seeking guardianship orders that may restrict myriad decision-making rights into the future. Worse, the IDEA’s transfer-of-rights requirements are frequently misstated by researchers, judges, and civil society organizations, thereby confusing rather than clarifying parents and students’ choices. This Article surveys the state-level transfer-of-rights rules and guidance that have contributed to raising the stakes of transfer-of-rights considerations. While 50 of 54 jurisdictions surveyed choose to transfer parental rights to adult students as the IDEA permits, we found that only 40% of transfer-of-rights statutes or regulations in these “transfer” jurisdictions comply with IDEA requirements. Also, only 40% of these statutes or regulations establish optional procedures for appointing educational representatives for students considered unable to give informed consent, while fewer recognize guardianship alternatives that effectively avoid parental rights transfers (36%). Only three states, Connecticut, Indiana, and Virginia, have transfer-of-rights regulations that appear to do all three. We also found that state educational agencies’ guidance documents too frequently misinform parents, students, and educators about transfer-of-rights rules (42%) or fail to mention guardianship alternatives (70%). We conclude with commonsense recommendations for how state policymakers, the U.S. Department of Education, and special education adjudicators can intervene to lower the stakes caused by many jurisdictions’ uneven transfer-of-rights rules and guidance.