TN 27 (02-15)

PR 07905.026 Minnesota

A. PR 15-060 Excel High School (MN) - REPLY

DATE: December 31, 2014  

1. SYLLABUS

Excel High School (Excel) is a nonpublic, online school based in Plymouth, Minnesota. We look to Minnesota law to determine whether Excel is consistent with the law of the state in which it is located. Excel operates in compliance with Minnesota law and is, therefore, an educational institution for SSA purposes. The student must also meet both Federal and State attendance requirements

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

You asked whether Excel High School, based out of Plymouth, Minnesota, may be considered an educational institution for purposes of awarding student benefits.

For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that Excel qualifies as an educational institution.  

.

BACKGROUND

The claimant, E~, is seeking child’s insurance benefits (CIB) due to his status as a full-time student at Excel. The agency uses Form SSA-1372-BK as the primary means for determining whether a child is a full-time student at a qualifying educational institution. POMS RS 00205.735. The claimant submitted a SSA-1372-BK dated August 26, 2014, indicating that he was scheduled to attend Excel full-time (23 hours per week) for the 2014-2015 academic year; he also indicated that he expected to graduate in December 2014. The SSA 1372-BK was certified by the Excel Registrar . The Excel Registrar indicated that the information the claimant had provided on the SSA 1372-BK was correct, and that the school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration.

DISCUSSION

To qualify for student benefits, a claimant must be at least 18 years old, but under age 19, and a full-time elementary or secondary school student at a qualifying educational institution. See Section 202(d)(1)(B) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. §404.350(a)(5). In order to qualify as an educational institution for the purposes of awarding student benefits, the school must provide an education “as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located. 42 U.S.C. §402(d)(7)(C)(i); see also POMS RS 00205.200(A). Under the POMS, it is assumed that public schools in the United States are educational institutions, absent evidence to the contrary; a non-public school cannot be assumed to be an educational institution. POMS RS 00205.250(B). It does not matter if the school is online, so long as the school meets state law requirements. POMS RS 00205.295. An online school is “one that offers Internet-based courses to students.” POMS RS 00205.295(A). 

The claimant must also show that he is a full-time elementary or secondary school student in order to qualify for student benefits. The Act defines “full-time elementary or secondary school student” as an individual who is in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school. Section 202(d)(7)(a) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. §404.367. A child attending an online school may be considered a full-time student if: (1) the student meets the standards for full-time attendance as defined in POMS RS 00205.300, and (2) the online school is consistent with the law of the state in which the online school is located. POMS RS 00205.295(B). To satisfy the “full-time attendance” requirement, a student must meet both federal and state standards. POMS RS 00205.300(A). To meet the federal standards, the claimant must be enrolled in a non-correspondence course of at least 13 weeks’ duration and be scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week (with certain exceptions). 20 C.F.R. §404.367(b), (c); POMS RS 00205.300(C). The state requirements are met if the school considers the claimant to be a full-time student based on the school’s standards and practices for day students. POMS RS 00205.300(B).  

Excel Qualifies as an Educational Institution

The claimant resides in the State of Illinois. However, because Excel is a school based in Minnesota, it is necessary to examine Minnesota law to determine whether Excel is an educational institution. Under Minnesota law, a “secondary school” means any school with building, equipment, courses of study, class schedules, enrollment of pupils ordinarily in grades 7 through 12 or any portion thereof, and staff meeting the standards established by the commissioner of education. M.S.A. §120A.05(13). 

Excel is a nonpublic (private), online school based in Minnesota. 1 Minnesota defines nonpublic school as any school, church, or religious organization, or home school where a student can fulfill compulsory education requirements, that is located in the state, and that meets the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. MSA § 123B.41, Subd. 9. Under Minnesota compulsory education requirements, schools must provide instruction in basic communications skills (including reading, writing, literature, and fine arts); mathematics and science; social studies (including history, geography, and government); and health and physical education. M.S.A. §120A.22(9). Excel’s required curriculum appears to meet Minnesota State standards, with instruction in all required fields. M.S.A. §120A.22(9). 2 Further, there is no indication that Excel does not meet the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Teacher certification for nonpublic schools in the State of Minnesota is optional. However, nonpublic teachers in the State of Minnesota must do one of the following: hold a valid Minnesota teaching license for the grade level; be directly supervised by an individual with a valid Minnesota teaching license; successfully complete a teacher competency examination; provide instruction in a school that is accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Nonpublic Education Council; or hold a baccalaureate degree. 3 The Excel website indicates that all online high school courses are taught by state-licensed instructors that hold at least a Master or Ph.D. degree, with a teaching license relative to each instructor’s area of expertise.4 Accreditation for nonpublic schools in Minnesota is likewise optional. However, Excel is directly accredited by AdvancEd, an accrediting organization recognized by the Minnesota Nonpublic Education Council. 5 As a result, Excel is eligible for reduced reporting requirements under Minnesota Department of Education policy. Though Excel’s eligibility for reduced reporting requirements is not dispositive, accreditation by a recognized entity lends credence to Excel’s status as an educational institution. Further, the Excel Director confirmed that Excel complies with Minnesota’s attendance reporting requirements for students under the age of 18, as is required by M.S.A. §120A.24(1). 

Unlike public schools, the State of Minnesota does not regulate the length of the school year for students attending nonpublic schools.6 Based on the foregoing, we conclude that Excel qualifies as an educational institution for purposes of awarding Child Insurance Benefits. Though nonpublic schools are not closely regulated by the Minnesota Department of Education, information provided by Excel personnel, Excel’s website, and the Minnesota Department of Education supports that Excel operates in compliance with Minnesota law. Accordingly, we find that it meets the requirements of an educational institution for purposes of awarding student benefits.

The Claimant Appears to Meet Federal and State Attendance Standards

In addition to attending a qualifying educational institution, a student must meet both federal and state attendance requirements to qualify for student benefits. POMS RS 00205.300(A). As stated above, to meet the federal standards, the claimant must be enrolled in a non-correspondence course of at least 13 weeks’ duration and be scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week (with certain exceptions). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b), (c); POMS RS 00205.300(C).  On the SSA-1372-BK dated August 26, 2014, the claimant asserted that he was scheduled to attend Excel a total of 23 hours per week. The Excel Registrar certified that the claimant’s statements were correct, and that the school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration. Based on this information, the claimant appears to meet the federal requirements, as he was scheduled to attend more than 20 hours per week for at least 13 weeks.

However, in order to qualify for student benefits, the claimant must also meet state attendance requirements. State attendance requirements are met if a student is considered full-time based on the school’s standards and practices. POMS RS 000205.300(B).  Excel’s website advises that students are considered full-time if they take 4-6 courses per semester, spending 4-5 hours per day, five days per week, in coursework. In the SSA-1372-BK, the claimant asserted that he was scheduled to attend 23 hours of school per week, which falls within Excel’s expectation for full-time attendance. The claimant therefore appears to meet the state attendance requirements as well.

Conclusion

For the reasons discussed above, we find that Excel is an educational institution. In addition, it appears that the claimant was scheduled to meet both federal and state attendance requirements.

Kathryn Caldwell
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
By: __________

Tiffani Jake

Assistant Regional Counsel

B. PR 15-034 Minnesota Virtual Academy / J~ - REPLY

DATE: December 4, 2014

1. SYLLABUS

The Minnesota Virtual Academy (MVA) in Houston, Minnesota, is a Minnesota online public school that operates as an extension of the Houston public school system. The MVA provides elementary and secondary education in accordance with Minnesota law and is, therefore, an educational institution for SSA purposes. 

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

You asked whether Minnesota Virtual Academy in Houston, Minnesota, may be considered an educational institution for purposes of awarding student benefits.

For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that Minnesota Virtual Academy qualifies as an educational institution. We further conclude that the claimant appears to meet the requirements for full-time attendance.

BACKGROUND

The claimant, J~, is seeking child’s insurance benefits (CIB) due to his status as a full-time student at Minnesota Virtual Academy. The agency uses Form SSA-1372-BK as the primary means for determining whether a child is a full-time student at a qualifying educational institution. POMS RS 00205.735. The claimant submitted an undated SSA-1372-BK, indicating that he was scheduled to attend Minnesota Virtual Academy on a full-time basis (30 hours per week) for the 2014-2015 academic year; he also indicated that he expected to graduate in June 2017. The SSA 1372-BK was certified by Principal T~. The Principal indicated that the information the claimant provided on the SSA 1372-BK was correct, and that the school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration.

DISCUSSION

To qualify for student benefits, a claimant must be at least 18 years old, but under age 19, and a full-time elementary or secondary school student at a qualifying educational institution. See Section 202(d)(1)(B) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. §404.350(a)(5). In order to qualify as an educational institution for the purposes of awarding student benefits, the school must provide an education “as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located. 42 U.S.C. §402(d)(7)(C)(i); see also POMS RS 00205.200(A). The POMS refers to such a school as an “educational institution.” POMS RS 00205.200(A). Under the POMS, it is assumed that public schools in the United States are educational institutions, absent evidence to the contrary; a non-public school cannot be assumed to be an educational institution. POMS RS 00205.250(B).

It does not matter if the school is online, so long as the school meets state law requirements. POMS RS 00205.295. An online school is “one that offers Internet-based courses to students.” POMS RS 00205.295(A).

The claimant must also show that he is a full-time elementary or secondary school student in order to qualify for student benefits. The Act defines “full-time elementary or secondary school student” as an individual who is in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school. Section 202(d)(7)(a) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. §404.367. A child attending an online school may be considered a full-time student if: (1) the student meets the standards for full-time attendance as defined in POMS RS 00205.300, and (2) the online school is consistent with the law of the state in which the online school is located. POMS RS 00205.295(B).

To satisfy the “full-time attendance” requirement, a student must meet both federal and state standards. POMS RS 00205.300(A). To meet the federal standards, the claimant must be enrolled in a non-correspondence course of at least 13 weeks’ duration and be scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week (with certain exceptions). 20 C.F.R. §404.367(b), (c); POMS RS 00205.300(C). The state requirements are met if the school considers the claimant to be a full-time student based on the school’s standards and practices for day students. POMS RS 00205.300(B).

Minnesota Virtual Academy Qualifies as an Educational Institution

Because Minnesota Virtual Academy is a school based in Minnesota, it is necessary to examine Minnesota law to determine whether it qualifies as an educational institution. Under Minnesota law, a “secondary school” means any school with building, equipment, courses of study, class schedules, enrollment of pupils ordinarily in grades 7 through 12 or any portion thereof, and staff meeting the standards established by the commissioner of education. M.S.A. §120A.05(13). Admission to a school supported by public funds is free to anyone under the age of 21 who meets the residency requirements of the district that operates the school under Minnesota law. M.S.A. §120A.20. Schools must provide instruction in basic communications skills (including reading, writing, literature, and fine arts); mathematics and science; social studies (including history, geography, and government); and health and physical education. M.S.A. §120A.22(9). The Minnesota Education Code expressly authorizes online learning options. M.S.A. §124D.095. Online learning programs must meet or exceed state academic standards. M.S.A. §124D.095, subd. 7(b).

Minnesota Virtual Academy is a Minnesota online public school that operates as an extension of the Houston Public School System. Because Minnesota Virtual Academy is a public school, we assume it is an educational institution unless there is evidence to the contrary. See POMS RS 00205.250B. In this case, there is no evidence contrary to Minnesota Virtual Academy’s presumed nature as an educational institution. Minnesota Virtual Academy’s website advises that it follows the same state curriculum and criteria for graduation as traditional Minnesota public schools, with issuance of a Minnesota high school diploma upon graduation from the 12th grade. 7 The website also indicates that all teachers are licensed by the State of Minnesota, enrollment is limited to Minnesota residents, and the school is funded by the State of Minnesota.

Notably, Minnesota Virtual Academy is included on the Minnesota Department of Education’s list of public online learning providers with state-approved programs, and who comply with state reporting and accountability requirements. 8 Schools on this list offer courses that are: taught by licensed Minnesota teachers; meet or exceed state academic standards; transfer to other public school districts; and apply toward high school graduation. 9 Given this explicit approval by the Minnesota Department of Education, as well as the other factors discussed above, we believe that Minnesota Virtual Academy provides elementary and secondary education as determined under the law of Minnesota, and that it therefore meets the requirements for an educational institution.

The Claimant Appears to Meet Federal and State Attendance Standards

In addition to attending a qualifying educational institution, a student must meet both federal and state attendance requirements to qualify for student benefits. POMS RS 00205.300(A). As stated above, to meet the federal standards, the claimant must be enrolled in a non-correspondence course of at least 13 weeks’ duration and be scheduled for attendance at the rate of at least 20 hours per week (with certain exceptions). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(b), (c); POMS RS 00205.300(C). On the SSA-1372-BK, the claimant asserted that he was scheduled to attend Minnesota Virtual Academy a total of 30 hours per week. Minnesota Virtual Academy Principal T~ certified that the claimant’s statements were correct, and that the school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration. Based on this information, the claimant appears to meet the federal requirements, as he was scheduled to attend more than 20 hours per week for at least 13 weeks.

However, in order to qualify for student benefits, the claimant must also meet state attendance requirements. State attendance requirements are met if a student is considered full-time based on the school’s standards and practices. POMS RS 000205.300(B). Principal T~ advised the Bemidji, Minnesota Field Office that students must complete five days (30 hours) of classwork per week in order to be considered enrolled on a full-time basis. In the SSA-1372-BK, Principal T~ certified the claimant’s scheduled attendance of 30 hours per week, which falls within Minnesota Virtual Academy’s expectation for full-time attendance. The claimant therefore appears to meet the state attendance requirements as well.

Conclusion

For the reasons discussed above, we find that Minnesota Virtual Academy is an educational institution. In addition, it appears that the claimant meets both federal and state attendance requirements.

Kathryn Caldwell
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
By: __________

Tiffani Jake

Assistant Regional Counsel


Footnotes:

[1]

Although the Minnesota Education Code expressly authorizes online learning options, authorization under this section of the Code extends only to public “online learning providers” specifically approved by the Minnesota Department of Education. M.S.A. § 124D.095. Excel’s status as an educational institution therefore cannot be determined under this section. Thus, in order to determine if Excel in an educational institution under Minnesota law, we must examine the criteria for regulation of private schools as set forth by the Minnesota Department of Education. See State Regulation of Private Schools http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Welcome/AdvBCT/NonPubEdCoun/index.html (last accessed December 31, 2014).

[2]

http://www.excelhighschool.com/courses.php (last accessed December 31, 2014).

[3]

See State Regulation of Private Schools http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Welcome/AdvBCT/NonPubEdCoun/index.html

[4]

http://www.excelhighschool.com/faq.php (last accessed December 31, 2014).

[5]

http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Welcome/AdvBCT/NonPubEdCoun/003101

[6]

See State Regulation of Private Schools http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Welcome/AdvBCT/NonPubEdCoun/index.html ---------------

[7]

See Minnesota Virtual Academy home page (available at http://www.k12.com/mnva/home (last accessed on November 6, 2014)).

[8]

See (available at Minnesota Approved Online Learning Providers listhttp://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/EnrollChoice/Online/OnlineLearningProviders/004409 (last accessed November 6, 2014)).

[9]

See (available at Minnesota Department of Education Online Learninghttp://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/EnrollChoice/Online/index.html (last accessed November 6, 2014)).


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1507905026
PR 07905.026 - Minnesota - 02/13/2015
Batch run: 02/13/2015
Rev:02/13/2015