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