You asked whether Zoe Home School, an entity located in Alabama, is an educational
institution under Alabama law for determining whether S~ (Claimant), an Alabama resident,
is eligible for child’s insurance benefits (CIB) on the earnings record of D~, the
deceased number holder (NH). You also asked whether Claimant was in full-time attendance.
Zoe Home School is not an educational institution under Alabama law and Claimant is
not instructed in elementary or secondary education at home in accordance with Alabama
law. Claimant also does not meet the standards for full-time attendance.
According to the information provided, Claimant received CIB on NH’s earnings record.
Claimant seeks CIB beyond the age of eighteen as a full-time student. Claimant completed
a Student Statement Regarding School Attendance Form, Form SSA-1372-BK, in which she
indicated she lives in T~, Alabama, and attends Zoe Home School twenty hours per week.
Claimant reported that she has attended Zoe Home School since September 2017 and expects
to graduate in May 2019. Claimant indicated Zoe Home School is a home school. She
reported she was not married; did not expect to earn more than $17,041.00 in 2018;
and was not being paid to attend school.
Zoe Home School’s administrator, P~, completed and signed the Certification by School
Official page of Form SSA-1372-BK and confirmed that the information Claimant provided
was correct. P~ also indicated that Zoe Home School had a course of study of at least
thirteen weeks and the school operated on a quarterly/semester basis and no re-enrollment
Claimant submitted her completed Church School Enrollment Form, which included Claimant’s
contact information and indicated she was in 11th grade for the 2017-2018 school year.
She included a course list. She also submitted an attendance form, showing general
attendance for October, November, and December 2017.
Zoe Home School’s website describes itself as a “home school umbrella organization”
based in T~ County, Alabama, and states that it accepts “families outside of our home
congregation at Soma Church.” Zoe Home School, http://www.zoehomeschool.org/ (last visited July 16, 2018). The website further describes Zoe Home school as providing
“administration assistance and a church sponsored covering for parents to legally
and legitimately homeschool their children.” Id.
Claimant did not provide any information showing that either she or her mother has
filed an enrollment or attendance form with the local public school superintendent.
There is no information on Zoe Home School’s website related to the school filing
enrollment and attendance information with the local public school superintendent
or any indication that the school keeps an attendance register for each day of the
To be eligible for CIB on the earnings record of an individual who dies fully or currently
insured, an individual who is eighteen years or older and not disabled must be a “full-time
elementary or secondary school student.” Social Security Act (Act) § 202(d)(1)(B)(i),
(d)(7)(A); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(5), 404.367 (2018); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00205.001.A. An individual may qualify as an “elementary or secondary school student” if he
or she attends an educational institution, i.e., a school that provides elementary
or secondary education (twelfth grade or below) according to the law of the state
or jurisdiction where the school is located. See Act § 202(d)(7)(A), (d)(7)(C); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a), (e); POMS RS 00205.001A; POMS RS 00205.200A. An individual also may qualify as an elementary or secondary school student if he
or she receives instruction in elementary or secondary education at home under the
home school law of the state or other jurisdictional where the individual resides.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1); POMS RS 00205.275A. The law of the state in which the home school is located must recognize home school
as an educational institution. See POMS RS 00205.275.B. The individual’s home school instructor must submit evidence that the state requirements
for home schooling are met. See POMS RS 00205.275.C. Additionally, an individual may be considered an elementary or secondary school
student if he or she is in an independent study program administered by the local
school or school district in accordance with the law of the state or jurisdiction
in which he or she resides. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(2); POMS RS 00205.285.
An individual also must attend school full time to qualify as a “full-time elementary
or secondary school student.” See Act § 202(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b), (c); POMS RS 00205.001A; POMS RS 00205.300A. An individual is in full-time attendance if he or she is attending an educational
institution and meets both state and Federal standards for full-time attendance. See Act § 202(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a), (c); POMS RS 00205.295B.; POMS RS 00205.300A. An individual meets the state standards if a qualifying educational institution considers
the individual to be a full-time student based on the institution’s standards and
practices. See Act § 202(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b); POMS RS 00205.300B; POMS RS 00205.350C.1. An individual meets the Federal standards if he or she is scheduled to attend
school at the rate of at least twenty hours per week, enrolled in a noncorrespondence
course, and enrolled in a course of study lasting at least thirteen weeks. See Act § 202(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b), (c); POMS RS 00205.300C. A home schooled individual must meet the Federal standards for full-time attendance
and carry a subject load that is considered full-time for day students under standards
and practices set by the state in which the individual resides. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b); POMS RS 00205.275B. The home schooling instructor is the certifying school official for full-time attendance
purposes on Form SSA-1372. See id.: see also POMS RS 00205.350B (stating the agency uses Form SSA-1372 to verify attendance). Attendance for a student
in an independent study program must also meet the Federal full-time attendance requirements,
which individual accomplishes by combining the number of hours at a school facility
with the agreed upon number of hours in independent study. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c); POMS RS 00205.285B.
Educational Institution under Alabama Law
Because Zoe Home School is located in Alabama, we look to Alabama law to determine
whether Zoe Home School is a school that provides elementary or secondary education.
Under Alabama law, every child between the ages of six and seventeen years is required
to attend a public school, private school, or church school, or receive instruction
from a competent private tutor. Ala. Code § 16-28-3(a) (2018). A parent or guardian in Alabama may decide the type of school or method of education
for his or her child, including public schooling, private schooling, or home-based
education. See Ala. Code §§ 16-1-11.1(1), 16-1-11.2(a). Nonpublic schools, as well as home-schooling
entities, are not subject to state regulation, but they must comply with state law
enrollment reporting and the requirements for school attendance. See Ala. Code §§ 16-1-11.1(2), (3), 16-1-11.2(b), 16-1-11.3.
Zoe Home School is not listed by the Alabama Department of Education as a public school
in Tuscaloosa County, where Zoe Home School is based. See Ala. State Dep’t of Educ., School Information: Education Directory, https://web.alsde.edu/home/SchoolInfo/Default.aspx (last visited July 2018); Zoe Home School, http://www.zoehomeschool.org/. Thus, Zoe Home School is not a public school under Alabama law.
A “private school” under Alabama law “[i]ncludes only such schools that are established,
conducted, and supported by a nongovernmental entity or agency offering educational
instruction in grades K-12, or any combination thereof, including preschool, through
on-site or home programs.” Ala. Code § 16-28-1(1). A “church school” under Alabama
law “[i]ncludes only schools that offer instruction in grades K-12, or any combination
thereof, including preschool, through on-site or home programs, and are operated as
a ministry of a local church, group of churches, denomination, and/or association
of churches which do not receive any state or federal funding.” Zoe Home School’s
website suggests that it is a ministry of Soma Church, but does not specify whether
it receives any state or federal funding. The website indicates that it is not accredited
and the information available suggests that Zoe Home School does not accept state
or federal funding. Zoe Home School also does not use a particular curriculum, but
appears to be just an umbrella organization for parents to home school. See http://www.zoehomeschool.org/index.html. Thus, Zoe Home School does not appear to “offer instruction,” as required to be considered
a “church school” under Alabama law. Thus, Zoe Home School is not a private school
or church school.
Home Schooling under Alabama Law
Because Zoe Home School does not meet the requirements to be an educational institution
under Alabama law, we look to see if Claimant is instructed in elementary or secondary education at home in accordance
with a home school law of Alabama, where Claimant resides. See Act § 202(d)(7)(C)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1); POMS RS 00205.275A, B. As noted previously, an Alabama parent may choose to educate their child at home.
See Ala. Code §§ 16-1-11.1(1), (2), 16-1-11.2(a). Homeschoolers can teach their children
at home under one of three conditions: (1) by affiliating with a church school; (2) by
affiliating with a private school, or (3) as a private tutor, in which case the tutor
must have a valid Alabama teaching certificate. See Ala. Code §§ 16-28-1, 16-28-3(a), 16-28-5.
Option 1: Affiliating with a Church School.
A child attending a church school is exempt from the requirements of compulsory attendance
provided the child complies with the enrollment and reporting procedure in section
Ala. Code § 16-28-7. See Ala. Code §§ 16-1-11.1(3), 16-1-11.3, 16-28-3. “The enrollment and attendance of
a child in a church school must be filed with the local public school superintendent
by the parent . . . on a form provided by the superintendent . . . which shall be
countersigned by the administrator of the church school and returned to the public
school superintendent by the parent.” Ala. Code § 16-28-7. Additionally, the principal
teacher of the church school must keep an attendance register for each day of the
school year. See Ala. Code § 16-28-8. There is no statutory authority authorizing or requiring any
state or local authority to regulate church schools, which may conduct classes as
they see fit. See Ala. Code § 16-1-11.1. There is no requirement that church school teachers be certified
or that a church school be accredited by the state or any private agency. See Ala. Code § 16-1-11.1(4). Other than the State laws requiring parents to report attendance
and for church schools to report if a student is no longer in attendance at such a
church school, there is no provision of Alabama law that permits or requires any state
or local authority to regulate a church school. See Ala. Code §§ 16-1-11.1(3), 16-1-11.3.
Here, Zoe Home School appears to be affiliated with Soma Church, but the exact affiliation
is unclear from the school’s website. Although Plaintiff completed a “Church School
Enrollment Form,” there is no evidence that Claimant’s parent has registered with
the local school board, or that any certified attendance records are kept and provided
to the local school board, as required by statute. See Ala. Code § 16-28-7. Therefore, the information provided does not establish that
Claimant is home schooled through a church school in accordance with Alabama law.
Option 2: Affiliating with a Private School.
Private schools must register annually by October 10 with the Alabama Department of
Education and report the number of pupils, the number of instructors, enrollment,
attendance, course of study, length of term, cost of tuition, funds, value of property,
and the general condition of the school. See Ala. Code § 16-1-11.
Zoe Home School is not affiliated with any private school, and there is no evidence
that Claimant is included in the mandatory enrollment or attendance reporting statements
of any private school. See Ala. Code §§ 16-1-11, 16-28-7, 16-28-8. There is also no indication that Zoe Home
School is registered with the State of Alabama as a private school, or that it provides
any enrollment or attendance reports to county or city school superintendents in Alabama.
See Ala. Code §§ 16-1-11, 16-28-7, 16-28-8; see Zoe Home School, http://www.zoehomeschool.org/About-Us.html. Therefore, the information provided does not establish that Claimant is home schooled
through an affiliation with a private school in accordance with Alabama law.
Option 3: Private Tutor.
A child also may be home schooled if instructed by a competent private tutor. See Ala. Code § 16-28-5. The tutor must be a State certified teacher, teach “for at least
three hours a day for 140 days each calendar year, between the hours of 8:00 a.m.
and 4:00 p.m.,” file with the county superintendent a statement describing subjects
taught and period of instruction, keep a register of the child’s work showing daily
hours of instruction and attendance, and shall make such reports as the State Board
of Education may require. Id.; see
also Ala. Code § 16-28-7 (stating “the principal teacher of each public school, private
school, and each private tutor, but not church school, shall report . . . the names
and addresses of all children of mandatory school attendance age who have enrolled
in such schools”). To obtain a high school diploma, a child must have credits in such
courses as English, algebra, and geometry or their equivalents, biology and a physical
science, social studies, health education, career preparedness, and career and technical
education, foreign language, or arts education. See Ala. Admin. Code § 290-3-1-.02(8). Contents of courses not defined in the State course
of study must be approved by the local board of education. Id.
Claimant has provided no information to support or suggest that she is being instructed
by a private tutor that meets the statutory requirements. Therefore, the information
provided does not establish that Claimant is home schooled through instruction with
a private tutor in accordance with Alabama law.
Claimant’s instruction through Zoe Home School also does not qualify as an independent
study program. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(2). Independent study is a method of alternative secondary
education used in some states. POMS RS 00205.285A. Local education agencies, such as high schools or school districts, run independent
study programs. Id. Independent study programs are run “in accordance with specific State law requirements,
and the credits earned count toward high school graduation.” Id. The programs involve periodic teacher contact, direction, and testing on campus,
with the student making academic progress generally through independent study at home.
Id. Nothing in the information provided suggests any local school or school district
runs Zoe Home School. Thus, Claimant’s instruction through Zoe Home School does satisfy
the independent study requirements.
Finally, because Zoe Home School is not an educational institution under Alabama law,
Claimant is not being instructed at home in accordance with Alabama law, and she is
not in an independent study program under Alabama law, Claimant does not satisfy the
requirements for full-time attendance. See Act § 202(d)(7)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)-(c); POMS RS 00205.295.B; POMS RS 00205.300.A.
Claimant has not demonstrated the Zoe Home School is an educational institution under
Alabama law. Additionally, Claimant has not been demonstrated that she is participating
in a home school study program in compliance with Alabama law or that she is in an
independent study program in accordance with Alabama law. Thus, she is not a full-time
elementary or secondary school student based on her instruction through Zoe Home School
and does not satisfy the requirements for full-time attendance for determining her
eligibility to CIB on the NH’s earnings record.