TN 20 (10-13)
PR 07905.004 Arizona
A. PR 13-111 Educational Institution; Agave Distance Learning; Child Austin
DATE: August 16, 2013
Under Arizona law, Agave Distance Learning High School (Agave) is an online instructional school affiliated with the Tucson Unified School District. It qualifies as an educational institution under federal law, and its internet –based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved independent study under Arizona law. It qualifies as an educational institution under federal law, and its internet - based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved independent study under Arizona law. This finding is consistent with 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(2) which defines an educational institution.
You asked whether Agave Distance Learning, an online high school, meets the requirements for an educational institution under the Social Security Act?
Yes. Agave Distance Learning qualifies as educational institution under federal law, and its internet-based (online) program provides an acceptable form of approved independent study under Arizona law.
Austin, who attained age 18 in February 2013, is a recipient of child’s insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. He currently attends classes at Agave Distance Learning High School (Agave), an internet-based public school that is part of the Tucson Unified School District. Agave offers the same curriculum and courses, and has the same graduation requirements, as the traditional high schools in the Tucson Unified School District. Agave provides assignments, tests and quizzes online, and has certified teachers and academic advisors available to assist its students. See AGAVE Middle & High School “How It Works”, http://tusd1.org/contents/depart/agave/how.asp. Stuart , the Agave Coordinator, advised the agency that Agave tracks the amount of time students are logged into its computer system by monitoring their log-in and log-out times, which must amount to at least 20 hours per week; students may not stay enrolled in Agave if they have not logged in for two weeks.
To be eligible for child’s insurance benefits between the ages of 18 and 19, the child must be in full-time attendance (FTA) at an educational institution (EI) that provides elementary or secondary courses. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1)(B), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350, 404.367; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00205.001(A). A student will be considered enrolled in an EI if he or she participates in an independent study program acceptable under the state’s educational statutes. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(2); POMS RS 00205.250(B)(5); RS 00205.285(C)(2). With certain limited exceptions, FTA is defined as 20 hours per week. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c). For an independent study school, “the number of hours spent in school attendance are determined by combining the number of hours of attendance at a school facility with the agreed upon number of hours spent in independent study.” Id.
Arizona educational statutes recognize online instruction as an acceptable form of secondary education. Pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute § 15-808, the Arizona State Board of Education has authority to select traditional public schools to be online course providers or “online schools.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15-808(A). Arizona law defines an online school as “a school that provides at least four online academic courses or one or more online courses for the equivalent of at least five hours each day for one hundred eighty school days.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15-808(I)(3). Arizona law requires the State Board of Education to annually report which schools participate in Arizona online instruction. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15-808(C). State law further requires that online public and charter schools must keep daily logs of the amount of time each participating pupil spends on academic tasks, as part of the school’s daily attendance calculations. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15-808(E).
As of April 2012, the Arizona State Board of Education approved Agave Distance Learning as an Arizona online instructional school affiliated with the Tucson Unified School District. As an approved school, Agave is required to offer a comprehensive program of instruction meeting the State’s grade level and graduation requirements. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15-808. Agave is therefore an approved public school that offers its instruction online.
Because Agave is a public online educational program approved by the State of Arizona, it qualifies as an acceptable independent study program under the regulations and POMS RS 00205.285. Here, Agave monitors the amount of time students are logged into their system performing academic tasks pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15-808(E). See POMS RS 00205.300(B) (“Consider the State requirements met if the school considers the student to be full-time based on the school’s standards and practices for day students.”). Although Austin does not attend classes in a traditional classroom, FTA requirements are satisfied so long as he performs academic tasks at least 20 hours per week, which meets the minimum requisite number of hours for an independent study school. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c); POMS RS 00205.300.
Agave Distance Learning High School qualifies as an educational institution under 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 and POMS RS 00205.285. Assuming Austin Utley performs academic tasks through Agave’s online system at least 20 hours per week, he meets the requirements for full-time attendance at a qualified independent study program.
See online at http://www.azed.gov/state-board-education/files/2012/11/list-of-aoi-districts-2012.pdf (Last accessed August 15, 2013). Although Agave currently has accreditation through Tucson Unified School District, they are also seeking accreditation through the an organization named AdvancED. The North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC), and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) are accreditation divisions of AdvancED. See http://www.advanc-ed.org (Last accessed August 15, 2013).
The information provided for our review did not include any detail regarding Austin’s personal course of study, including individual courses he has taken, how many hours he actually spends performing academic tasks online each week, or how many weeks he is participating in this program. Review of Form SSA-1372-BK and related attendance documents, is necessary to ensure that the child meets all agency requirements. See POMS RS 00205.735(A) (explaining student’s responsibility to submit a completed Form SSA-1372-BK or its equivalent), RS 00205.285(C) (explaining that the field office should obtain as much information as possible about the school, including any written agreement between the school and the student, and the school’s attendance requirements); see also Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15808(E) (requiring online schools to keep logs of student academic tasks for attendance purposes).