Whether Pearblossom Private School, Inc., qualifies as an educational institution?
Yes. Pearblossom Private School, Inc., qualifies as an educational institution under
federal law. However, because it functions as a correspondence school, rather than
an online school, the agency should investigate further to determine whether the child
may be considered home schooled under the applicable requirements, and thereby eligible
for benefits under the home schooling provisions.
Austin, a South Carolina resident, attends Pearblossom Private School, Inc. (PPS),
which is located in California. He also attended PPS from October 18, 2010, to September
26, 2011. On Form SSA-1372-BK, Austin indicated that he expected to attend 25 hours
per week this school year and attended school 20 hours each week last year. Rusty,
Registrar at PPS, certified under penalty of perjury that Austin correctly reported
his school attendance, and that his program would last at least 13 weeks.
In response to follow-up questions from the agency, Vicki (no last name or title)
reported that PPS does not track the time that students spend online and does not
provide online classes for their students. Instead, students independently read the
material or book assigned for each class, and then take an end-of-chapter test online.
PPS has no official instruction method and no interactive access to a teacher; the
school only provides books and learning materials. Students select either a 9month
or 12month program and then follow the “learning schedule” provided by the school
by reading and taking the online tests at the pace directed by the learning schedule.
A student may call and speak to someone for assistance with the tests, but that person
is not a certified teacher. Information on the PPS website regarding the course of
study generally corroborates the information provided by Vicki. The website also indicates
the subject areas and number of courses in each area required for http://www.pearblossomschool.com/graduation. See Pearblossom Private Sch., Inc., High School Requirements, requirements.html (last visited July 13, 2012).
With respect to attendance, Vicki reported that PPS does not keep a time log of student
attendance for students outside the state of California. The parent(s) of those students
track the time that the student spends reading the book assignments. PPS logs the
reading time of students in California pursuant to California state regulations.
PPS has filed an affidavit with the State of California, and California lists PPS
as an “active” California private school located within Keppel Union School District.
Cal. Dep’t of Educ., California School Directory: School: Pearblossom Private School, Inc.,http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/details.asp?cds=19646427069792&public=N (last visited July 3, 2012). PPS is accredited by both the Western Association of
Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools (WASCACS) and the North Central
Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), which is
a division of AdvancEd. Additionally, PPS has an A+ rating from the Better Business
Bureau. http://www.la.bbb.org/business-reviews/Private-Schools/Pearblossom-Private-School-Inc-in-Pearblossom-CA-13011559 st visited July 13, 2012).
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). Social Security
Act § 202(d)(1)(B), (d)(7)(D), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B), (d)(7)(D); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367
(2012); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00205.001(A). An EI is a school that provides elementary or secondary education as determined
under the law of the state or other jurisdiction in which it is located. Social Security
Act § 202(d)(7)(C); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200. With limited exceptions,
FTA is defined as attendance of at least 20 hours per week for 13 weeks; a student
must meet both federal and state attendance requirements. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b),
(c), POMS RS 00205.300. Students in home schooling programs permitted under state law must meet the full-time
course load requirements for the state in which they reside. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b).
Under POMS RS 00205.295, “[a]n online school is one that offers Internet-based courses to students. Online
schools vary considerably in the methods used to provide education to students. Some
features of online schools may include virtual classrooms; an interactive curriculum;
email, telephone, and fax access to teachers; either online or in-person completion
of tests; required time spent online that the school monitors; and individualized
instruction.” In contrast, “[a] correspondence school is a school that teaches by
mailing lessons and exercises to the student. Upon completion, the student returns
the exercises to the school for grading.” POMS RS 00295.330.
Generally, a student is not in FTA based on correspondence school courses even if
the correspondence school meets the definition of an EI. POMS RS 00205.330(B). The agency expressly excludes from child’s insurance benefit eligibility those
individuals 18 years old and older who are enrolled solely in correspondence courses
because it does not believe such courses satisfy the Social Security Act’s definition
of a secondary school. See When You Are a Full-Time Elementary or Secondary School Student, 61 Fed. Reg. 38361, 38362 (July 24, 1996) (codified at 20 C.F.R. pt. 404). Attendance
at a correspondence school may be permissible for a limited portion of the school
year if a student is unable to attend regular classes due to circumstances beyond
his or her control. POMS RS 00205.330(B); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(c). In addition, correspondence courses may be used for home schooling
so long as all requirements of home schooling are met. 20 C.F.R. § 404.367; POMS RS 00205.275.
Because PPS is located in California, we look to California law. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200. In California, a “school” is defined to have the following: (1) One or more teachers
to give instruction; (2) an assigned administrator; (3) based in one or more buildings;
and (4) enrolled or prospectively enrolled studhttp://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/ds/dosinfo.aspents.
Cal. Dep’t of Educ., Definition of a School: Content, (last visited July 12, 2012). A private school is “a school, as defined, that is
owned or operated by a private person, firm, association, organization, or corporation,
rather than by a public agency.” Id.
California minimally regulates private schools. See Cal. Dep’t of Educ., Private Schools Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/psfaq.asp (last visited July 10, 2012) (“The CDE [California Department of Education] has no
authority to monitor or regulate private schools. A private school is a private business
or nonprofit entity and most issues are controlled by the private school unless regulated
by law (such as health or safety laws) or regulated by private contract.”); see also Jonathan v. Superior Court, 165 Cal. App. 4th 1074, 1092 n.20 (2008) (“We note here that the school district
verifies only if a private school affidavit has been filed; the district is granted
no authority by [California Education Code § 48222] to confirm that the private school
is in compliance with the other requirements of the private school exemption.”).
Private schools are not subject to state curriculum requirements for public schools,
though they must offer courses in the “several branches of study required to be taught
in the public schools of the state.” Cal. Educ. Code § 48222; Cal. Dep’t of Educ.,
Private Schools Frequently Asked Questions: Private School Records; Starting a Private
School; and Complaints, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/psfaq.asp#c7 (last visited July 12, 2012). In addition, the California Department of Education
website indicates that it has no role in determining the validity or acceptability
of private school diplomas. Cal. Dep’t of Educ., Private Schools Frequently Asked Questions: Private Schools: Alternatives; Regulations;
Selecting a School, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/psfaq.asp#a19 (last visited July 12, 2012). However, it notes that “[p]rivate high schools that
are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges grant diplomas that
generally are universally accepted.” Id.
California exempts children attending certain private schools from compulsory public
school attendance. Cal. Educ. Code §§ 48220, 48222. Such private schools must be taught
in the English language and instruct in the same branches of study as required for
public schools. Cal. Educ. Code § 48222. Children at private schools must also be
instructed by “persons capable of teaching.” Id. The private school must keep attendance of students. Id. Furthermore, the private school must file an affidavit annually with the state. Id. However, such affidavit “shall not be construed as an evaluation, recognition, approval,
or endorsement of any private school or course.” Id.
California provides an online directory of private schools that have filed an affidavit
and have more than six students. Cal. Dep’t of Educ., California School Directory, http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/ (last visited July 3, 2012); Cal. Dep’t of Educ., California School Directory: School: Pearblossom Private School, Inc., http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/details.asp?cds=19646427069792&public=N (last visited July 12, 2012); Cal. Dep’t of Educ., Private Schools Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/psfaq.asp. PPS has filed the required affidavit with the state of California. See Cal. Dep’t of Educ., California School Directory: School: Pearblossom Private School, Inc., http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/details.asp?cds=19646427069792&public=N (last visited July 10, 2012). The affidavit, valid for 2011–2012, contains information
regarding the school’s location, administrators, number of teachers, and number of
students. Cal. Dep’t of Educ., Private School Directory, http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/ps/documents/privateschools1112.xls (last visited July 3, 2012) (Excel spreadsheet).
By filing a current affidavit, PPS has established an exemption from compulsory public
school attendance for each California student enrolled. See Cal. Educ. Code § 48222; Cal. Dep’t of Educ., Private Schools Frequently Asked Questions: Private Schools and the Private School
Affidavit, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/psfaq.asp#b8. Based on the available state information, PPS meets California’s definitions for
a school and private school. See Cal. Dep’t of Educ., Definition of a School: Content, http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/ds/dosinfo.asp. The information provided on Form SSA-5002 and by Vicki indicates that PPS tracks
the time of students’ living in California. From a review of the PPS website, it appears that PPS teaches its courses in the
English language—at least by providing reading material in English—and has the same
required courses as the public school curriculum. See Pearblossom Private Sch., Inc., High School Requirements, http://www.pearblossomschool.com/requirements.html. Furthermore, it appears that PPS offers the same categories of courses as public
high schools as required by California Education Code section 48222. See id. In addition, PPS’s high school requirements meet or exceed the California public
high school graduation requirements. See id.; Cal. Educ. Code § 51225.3; Cal. Dep’t of Educ., State Minimum Course Requirements, http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/gs/hs/hsgrmin.asp (last visited July 12, 2012).
Based on the foregoing and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, PPS qualifies
as an EI.
However, the information provided on the PPS website and by Vicki on Form SSA 5002
indicate that the PPS program is more akin to a school that offers correspondence
courses than an online school. In particular, the only portion of the curriculum that
is online is the option of taking online tests to review completed coursework that
have been previously mailed to the student. See Pearblossom Private Sch., Inc., Description of PPS, Inc., http://www.pearblossomschool.com/description.html. Students use the telephone to contact the school if they have questions. In POMS
00205.295(A), the agency defines online schools as those offering “Internet-based courses,”
while RS 00205.330 defines correspondence schools as those that teach “by mailing lessons and exercises
to the student” which the student returns to the school for grading. Although RS 00205.295(A) recognizes that online schools vary widely in their method of providing education,
to accept PPS as an online school would undermine the correspondence course distinction
required by regulation. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b) (requiring full-time attendance in a “noncorrespondence course
of at least 13 weeks duration”); 61 Fed. Reg. 38361, 38362 (explaining rationale for
Based on the available evidence, we conclude that PPS is not an online school but
instead is a correspondence school.
Questions for Further investigation
Although the agency generally does not accept correspondence courses for purpose of
FTA, it may do so in limited circumstances. POMS RS 00205.330(B). The POMS provides procedures for obtaining information from a student to determine
if attendance at a correspondence school is permissible for a portion of a school
year. POMS RS 00205.330(B), (C). The agency should consider obtaining this additional information.
Austin may also still qualify for Auxiliary Child Benefits if he meets the requirements
for home schooling under South Carolina law. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1); POMS RS 00205.330(B) (recognizing that home schooling may use correspondence school course materials).
“If the student’s courses are from a correspondence school, the home school teacher
must instruct the student using the course material.” POMS RS 00205.275(C). Because the information submitted by Austin does not provide sufficient evidence
to make the home schooling determination, the agency would require additional information
in order to make a determination whether Austin qualifies for Auxiliary Child Benefits.
PPS meets the requirements of a private school under California law and qualifies
as an educational institution under 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 and POMS RS 00205.200. However, PPS is a correspondence school not an online school. Although correspondence
courses generally may not be used to establish full-time attendance, they may be used
for home schooling and for limited periods when regular school attendance is not possible.
The agency should obtain additional information as discussed above to determine whether
Austin qualifies for Auxiliary Child Benefits under these exceptions.