Here are some changes parents can expect when students turn 18: Truancy "If an 18-year-old decides midway through the year that they're...

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Here are some changes parents can expect when students turn 18:


“If an 18-year-old decides midway through the year that they’re done, there’s nothing the district can do,” said Shannon McMinimee, assistant general counsel for Seattle Public Schools. State law requires attendance for all children ages 8 to 17 if enrolled in public school. Under the state’s Becca Bill, school districts must address unexcused absences by minor students.

In some schools, adult students can sign permission slips and write their own excuses for absences (but administrators can still question them if they don’t seem legit.)

School correspondence

In some districts, including Seattle, grades, progress reports, letters and notices are addressed to the 18-year-old student, not parents.

Under the national Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (also called the Buckley Amendment), parents have the right to access a student’s school records and block the release of information to third parties. Those rights turn over to the student at age 18; as Bainbridge High School explains in a 2005 letter to parents of soon-to-be adults, “in effect, this means that parents would not be contacted by the school regarding the affairs of the 18-year-old student.”

Parents can still request access to school records by showing the student is a dependent for income-tax purposes (this works for college students, too).

Some local schools automatically switch control to 18-year-old students and leave it up to parents to provide signed statements to maintain access; others assume students still living at home are dependents and keep parents in the loop.


If an 18-year-old gets in trouble at school, many districts work directly with the student. “A parent doesn’t have the ability to appeal on behalf of an 18-year-old student,” McMinimee explained. Parents can hire a lawyer, but the student has to agree to representation. Administrators will only communicate with parents if the student gives written approval. “Parents have to be proactive and bring that to us,” McMinimee said.

Special education

Special-education students can continue in high school until age 21. But “federal and state rights transfer to the student at age 18 unless parents obtain guardianship,” McMinimee said. The district sends written notice to parents and the soon-to-be adult student advising them of this change. “Some students don’t have the skills to make the best judgments about their learning,” she said.

Parents can pursue total or limited guardianship. A potential guardian needs to apply and be appointed by a judge.

“This is not legally required of parents of children with disabilities,” notes a pamphlet by Washington PAVE, a Tacoma-based nonprofit. “However, if you do nothing, your child will be considered an adult under the law.”


Since they can now enter a legal contract, 18-year-olds are free to sign up for their own cellphones, get a credit card or buy a car. (With some exceptions, state law limits contracts to adults only.)


An 18-year-old caught making trouble with a group of minor friends could go to jail.

When the King County Sheriff’s Office runs its annual Party Patrol, for example, minors found drinking are arrested, then released to their parents or booked into the Youth Center. Those between ages 18 and 21, however, get a misdemeanor citation and could be booked into jail.

Any person 18 and older may sue or be sued in state court.


At 18, teens have the right “to make decisions in regard to their own body … including but not limited to consent to surgical operations.”

Even before reaching legal adulthood, Washington allows adolescents some independence in health-care issues. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, minors over the age of 13 or 14 can obtain outpatient treatment without parental consent for drug and alcohol dependency, mental-health problems, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases. Young patients can choose to keep these medical records confidential.

Stephanie Dunnewind, Seattle Times staff reporter