TN 9 (10-08)
PR 07905.035 New York
A. PR 09- 002 Nicholas P. S~ - Continued Eligibility for Student Benefits
DATE: October 7, 2008
The Mountainside Christian Academy in Schroon Lake, New York, provides education in compliance with New York law and is, therefore, an educational institution for SSA purposes.
You have asked whether Mountainside Christian Academy ("MCA") is an educational institution ("EI") for the purpose of the continuation of Nicholas P. S~'s benefits beyond the age of 18.
In our opinion, MCA is an EI because, while it is an uncertified, non-public school, its academic program is substantially equivalent to the instruction provided in the public schools.
Nicholas P. S~ was a student at MCA, a non-public school in Schroon Lake, New York, who was receiving benefits. MCA has not been certified by the State of New York's Board of Education for grades nine through twelve. In order for Mr. S~ to receive benefits beyond age 18 and to the point of his graduation in June 2008, it had to be established that MCA is an EI under Social Security regulations.
According to POMS RS 00205.250 B, it cannot be assumed that a non-public school, such as MCA, is an EI. If there is no legal precedent opinion for MCA or a similar school, the EI status of MCA requires development. See Id. According to POMS RS 00205.250 C, if there is no valid legal precedent, the school official should be asked for evidence of approval from the State or other jurisdiction for providing elementary or secondary level education. If evidence is available and the school is an EI, the claim can continue to be adjudicated.
According to the New York State Education Department's (NYSED) "Guidelines for Determining Equivalency of Instruction in Non-Public Schools," found at http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/nonpub/guidelinesEquivofInstruction.htm, if a child attends a non-public school, the board of education of the school district in which the child resides must be assured that the child is receiving instruction which is substantially equivalent to that provided in the public schools. We are in receipt of documents from the relevant jurisdiction and the NYSED which support that the academic program in MCA is substantially equivalent to the instruction provided in public schools.
A letter from the superintendent of the Schroon Lake School District, dated February 24, 1992 (copy attached), certified that MCA offered an educational program substantially equivalent to the public schools in New York State. However, according to Theresa M. F~, the District Manager of the Queensbury, New York field office, James A~, from the NYSED, Office for Nonpublic School Services, reported that the February 24, 1992 letter pertained only to grades one through eight.
The Queensbury New York field office sought clarification, and in a letter from the NYSED, dated March 20, 2008, Thomas E. H~, State Supervisor for Nonpublic Schools, asked that we "consider this a strong letter of support for the school and the students enrolled in it" (copy attached). He further stated that it was his understanding "that the superintendent of schools of the Schroon Lake Central School District has determined that the academic program of the [MCA] is 'substantially equivalent' to the instruction provided by said school district, and that a letter to that effect has been made available . . . . "
Assuming that Mr. H~ was referring to the February 24, 1992 letter, and given Mr. A~'s statement that the letter applied only to grades one through eight, Jeanne W~, a student intern in our office, contacted Mr. H~ for clarification. In a letter dated June 19, 2008 (copy attached), Mr. H~ responded:
I have reviewed this entire matter, this including an extensive telephone conversation with the current superintendent of the Schroon Lake Central School District. The local superintendent has confirmed to me that [MCA] has been in continuous operation for many, many years; that its faculty and staff provide instruction up through and including the 12th grade; and that hundreds of North Country children enrolled in their elementary and secondary grades have indeed received a bona fide, substantially equivalent education through their enrollment there. . .Since all of this makes for a very solid case of tacit approval for the academic program of [MCA] . . . we urge your office to approve the application . . . .
We are satisfied that this documentation, especially the latest letter from Mr. H~, adequately constitutes the "evidence of approval from the State or other jurisdiction for providing elementary or secondary level education," as referenced in POMS