Supporting Decision-Making for Students with Disabilities in DC
Since our founding in 2001, Quality Trust has trained and counseled hundreds of families and people with disabilities on supports and services designed to help people make decisions for themselves, to the maximum of their ability, without the need for guardianship.
While we recognize that sometimes guardianship is the right choice for families, we believe and recommend that it be the last resort – particularly for students on the cusp of adulthood. These young people are just beginning their adult lives and should have the chance to make their own decisions, with the support they need, instead of giving up that right to a guardian.
Over the last two years, Quality Trust received many calls from parents seeking guardianship “because the school told them to.” Their children were turning 18 years old, and they were concerned about being cut out of their special education planning process. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and DC Municipal Regulations, when students with disabilities turns 18, they are given all the rights and responsibilities for making school decisions. We learned that, in some cases, schools were refusing to inform parents about Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings or allow them to participate in the IEP process unless they got a guardianship order – even if their children wanted their help.
Part of the problem was the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Transfer of Rights Guidelines. Under those procedures, if parents told school employees that they were concerned that their children may need help making some school decisions, the employees had to refer the parents to the DC Superior Court and government for information on obtaining guardianship. The Guidelines did not give parents any information on less restrictive alternatives to guardianship, like Supported Decision-Making or educational powers of attorney.
Quality Trust led a coalition of stakeholders, including parents groups and other advocacy organizations, to push DCPS to change their policies and procedures to recognize options other than guardianship that could help students receive the help they need without taking away their right to make decisions. We met with personnel from the DC Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and DCPS to discuss how the current practice violated the civil rights of students with disabilities and should be changed. We also developed a flyer for parents that described how families could support young adults with disabilities in to make decisions and conducted trainings on alternatives to guardianship for parent groups.
As a result of our advocacy, DCPS changed its Guidelines in August 2013 to formally recognize Supported Decision-Making. While we and other advocates have recommendations for further improvements, we applaud DCPS for taking this important step towards promoting self-determination for students with disabilities.
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