You asked us to determine whether Impact on Learning, a private school in Montana,
is an educational institution under Montana law.
Impact on Learning is not an educational institution under Montana law because it
does not meet the state’s requirements for nonpublic schools. Moreover, the claimant
cannot satisfy the federal full-time attendance standard of at least 20 hours per
week. Thus, the claimant would not be eligible for child’s benefits even if Impact
on Learning qualified as an educational institution.
You informed us that the claimant turned age 18 in September 2010 and attends Impact
on Learning, a “private school located in Montana” that “teach[es] in connection with
Lighthouse, a Christian school located in Pennsylvania.”
In January 2011, the claimant submitted a form SSA-1372 (Student’s Statement Regarding
School Attendance). He identified his school as Lighthouse Christian Academy (Lighthouse)
in Nashville, Tennessee. He checked the boxes “High School” and “Home School” for
type of school program. The claimant indicated he attends school year round; is scheduled
to attend school 28 hours per week; and expects to graduate in June 2011. Karen G~,
a Lighthouse official and the claimant’s “academic advisor,” certified the claimant’s
responses as true and correct to the best of her knowledge. Ms. G~ also certified
that Lighthouse’s course of study is at least 13 weeks in duration.
In April 2011, a claims representative (CR) contacted Ms. G~ and Margie G~, an Impact
on Learning certified educational therapist. Ms. G~ described Lighthouse as follows.
It is a year round “distance learning program.” Lighthouse does not maintain attendance
records or require students to complete a certain number of hours. Lighthouse recommends
but does not require that students and “student managers” follow their states’ guidelines
for hours of scheduled attendance. Student managers assign grades to students and
submit them to Lighthouse every six months for validation. Lighthouse’s curriculum
includes the core subjects of math, science, social studies and English. Students
are required to obtain four credits in all core subjects.
According to Ms. G~, students physically attend classes at Impact on Learning’s facility.
Certified educational therapists teach (using Lighthouse’s curriculum) and assign
grades to students. “Students sign in on an attendance log every morning and sign
out on the same log when the student leaves.” Students work at their own pace but
typically spend four hours each day on course work. During a follow-up conversation
with the CR, Ms. G~ indicated the claimant “is in his own classroom with one teacher
3 hours a day, and he has 1-2 hours of schoolwork to complete each night at home.”
You have verified that Impact on Learning does not maintain student immunization records.
The claimant submitted a second form SSA-1372 in April 2011. He identified Impact
on Learning (not Lighthouse) as the school he attends and checked the box “High School”
as his type of school program. He listed September 2010 as the start date of his school
year and May 2011 as the end date. He indicated he is scheduled to attend school for
25 hours per week, and that he expects to graduate in October 2011. Wendy B~, Impact
on Learning’s director, certified his responses as true and correct to the best of
In July 2011, Ms. B~ informed the CR that the claimant attends classes only three
hours per day. She explained that Impact on Learning is “in the process of actually
becoming a private school [,] so [they] haven’t had to adhere to any state standards
as of yet because of [their] numbers being so low.” She also stated that Impact on
Learning is physically located “in a commercial building that is up to code . . .
In September 2011, we spoke to Land H~, the Building Inspector/Zoning & Floodplain
Administrator for the City of Hamilton, Montana. He was unable to confirm the building
is up to code. He explained that his office had not inspected the building in over
30 years, because no tenant had requested a permit to enlarge or remodel the structure
since the building’s initial construction in the 1970s. He also explained that the
building is located in a transit/business district. Therefore, Impact on Learning
would need to obtain a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to operate a private
school in the building. To date, Impact on Learning has not requested a variance.
When Mr. H~ visited the building on September 13, 2011, Impact on Learning representatives
maintained that Impact on Learning is a “professional educational services company”
that helps students (mostly after school), not a private school.
Requirements for Child’s Benefits after Age 18
Section 202(d) of the Social Security Act provides that child’s insurance benefits
usually terminate when the child attains age 18. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(6)-(7). Entitlement to child’s benefits may continue, however,
if (among other things) the child is “a full-time elementary or secondary student
and ha[s] not attained the age of 19.” Id. § 402(d)(1). To be a full-time student, a claimant must attend a school that provides
elementary or secondary education as determined under state law. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a). Additionally, an individual must be in attendance full-time
in a noncorrespondence course of study of at least 13 weeks duration. See id. § 404.367(b). Full-time attendance (FTA) requires scheduled attendance at the rate
of at least 20 hours per week. Id. § 404.367(c). The school must certify the student is in FTA according to federal standards. See POMS RS 00205.350(B). The Act defines an elementary or secondary school as “a school which provides
elementary or secondary education, respectively, 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 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200 (defining an EI).
Montana’s Requirements for Nonpublic Schools
Since the claimant physically attends school in Montana, we must apply that state’s
law in determining whether Impact on Learning is an educational institution (EI). In
Montana, nonpublic schools must:
maintain attendance and immunization records;
provide at least the minimum aggregate hours of pupil instruction required by state
law (a minimum of 1,080 hours for grades four through twelve and 1,050 hours for graduating
be housed in a building that complies with applicable local health and safety regulations;
provide an organized course of study that includes instruction in the subjects required
of public schools as a basic instructional program (see below).
Mont. Code Ann. §§ 20-5-109(1)-(4), 20-1-301.
A basic educational program for ninth through twelfth graders requires at least 20
units of coursework that enables all students to meet content and performance standards.
Minimum offerings must include at least the following: four units of English language
arts; three units of mathematics; three units of science; three units of social studies;
two units of vocational/technical education; two units of arts; one unit of health
enhancement; two units of world languages; and two units of electives. Mont. Admin.
Impact on Learning Does Not Qualify As an Educational Institution under Montana Law
Impact on Learning fails to satisfy Montana’s requirements for nonpublic schools.
First, while Impact on Learning maintains attendance records, it does not maintain
Second, we question whether Impact on Learning provides the minimum aggregate hours
of pupil instruction required by state law. School officials indicate that students
typically spend four hours per day on coursework but admit that Impact on Learning’s
standards do not require a certain number of hours per day of student instruction.
Nonetheless, even a year round school program with no vacation days that requires
only four hours of instruction per day falls short of the required 1,080 aggregate
hours of pupil instruction for grades four through twelve and 1,050 hours for graduating
seniors (20 hours x 52 weeks = 1,040 hours).
Third, Impact on Learning does not satisfy the statutory requirement that it be housed
in a building that complies with applicable local health and safety regulations. Mr.
H~, the city building inspector, cannot certify the building that houses Impact on
Learning as up to code. Moreover, he confirmed that Impact on Learning has not requested
a variance to operate a private school in a building zoned for commercial use.
Last, it appears Impact on Learning’s course of study is also insufficient to satisfy
Montana law. The Lighthouse curriculum used by Impact on Learning offers only one-half
credit of health. However, Montana’s basic instructional program requires one credit
of health enhancement that includes health and physical education. See Montana Health Enhancement K-12 Content and Performance Standards with Benchmarks
at 4th, 8th, and 12th Grades, http://opi.mt.gov/PDF/health/healthstds.pdf (last visited Sept. 15, 2011).
In sum, Impact on Learning does not satisfy the requirements of a nonpublic school
under Montana law. This conclusion is consistent with the statement to Mr. H~, made
by an Impact on Learning representative, that Impact on Learning is a professional
educational services company, not a private school.
To the extent the claimant alleges that rather than attending private school he is
home schooled at Impact on Learning, in Montana, “home school is the instruction by a parent of the parent’s child, stepchild, or ward in the parent’s residence . . . .” Mont. Code Ann. § 20-5-102(2)(e) (emphasis added). The claimant’s instruction
at Impact on Learning plainly does not meet these criteria.
The Claimant Does Not Meet Federal Full-time Attendance Standards
According to Ms. G~ and Ms. B~, the claimant attends Impact on Learning for only three
hours per day, which is the equivalent of 15 hours per week. (We presume the claimant
does not attend school on weekends.) Thus, he cannot satisfy the federal FTA requirement
of 20 hours per week. Attendance less than 20 hours per week may be justified if (1)
the school’s standards do not require at least 20 hours of weekly scheduled attendance;
and (2) attending that school is the student’s only reasonable alternative or if the
student’s medical condition precludes 20 hours of attendance. See POMS RS
00205.310(A). The claimant did not allege that attending Impact on Learning is his only reasonable
alternative or that he has a medical condition that precludes 20 hours of attendance. Thus,
even if Impact on Learning qualified as an EI under Montana law, which it does not,
the claimant does not meet the federal FTA standard.
Impact on Learning does not qualify as an EI under Montana law. Moreover, even assuming
Impact on Learning qualified as an EI, which it does not, the claimant would not be
entitled to child’s benefits because he does not meet the federal FTA standard of
at least 20 hours per week.
John J. L~
Regional Chief Counsel, Region VIII
Yvette G. K~
Assistant Regional Counsel