TN 30 (07-15)
PR 07905.036 North Carolina
PR 15-095 Status of SOAR Academy as an Educational Institution
March 11, 2015
North Carolina law pertinent to accreditation of non-public schools has changed, and this opinion modifies PR 10-072 (3/12/2010) in PR 08205.036. Effective in 2013, one of the characteristics of non-public schools in North Carolina changed. Instead of requiring accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, legislation amended the requirement to accreditation by a national or regional accrediting agency.
The Academy at SOAR, located in Balsam, North Carolina, provides secondary education in accordance with North Carolina law. It is, therefore, an educational institution for SSA purposes.
You asked us whether the Academy at SOAR (SOAR Academy) is an educational institution.
Yes, because the SOAR Academy meets the requirements of a qualifying non-public school under North Carolina law, it is an educational institution for purposes of the Social Security Act (Act). We look to North Carolina law because the SOAR Academy is located there.
According to the information provided, A~ receives child’s insurance benefits (CIB) on the earnings record of S~. A~ seeks CIB beyond the age of 18 as a full-time student. She provided a Student Statement Regarding School Attendance, in which she indicated she attends the SOAR Academy 35 hours per week. A~ indicated that the SOAR Academy is a high school located in Balsam, North Carolina, and she expects to graduate in May 2015. She also stated that she is not married or disabled; did not expect to earn more than $15,480 in 2014; and was not being paid to attend school.
The Director of the SOAR Academy completed the Certification by a School Official. He indicated that the information A~ provided about the school was accurate, apparently including the fact she attended school 35 hours per week; started attending the school in September 2014; and was expected to graduate May XX, 2015. The Director also indicated the SOAR Academy’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration.
A child’s entitlement to CIB ordinarily ends when she turns 18 years old. See Act § 202(d)(6); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(5), 404.367(a). However, the child may continue to receive CIB until she turns 19 years old so long as she is a “full-time elementary or secondary school student.” See Act § 202(d)(6); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(5), 404.367(a). We look to the law of the State or jurisdiction where the school is located to determine if the school is an elementary or secondary school within the meaning of the Act. See Act § 202(d)(7)(C)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200(A).
Here, although A~ is a resident of Wyoming, the SOAR Academy is located in North Carolina. Therefore, we look to North Carolina law to determine whether the SOAR Academy is an educational institution. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a)(1); POMS RS 00205.200(B). The state of North Carolina recognizes certain non-public schools as qualifying non-public schools. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-555 (West 2013). Attendance at a qualified non-public school satisfies the requirements of compulsory school education under North Carolina law so long as the school meets certain requirements. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-556 to -558; see N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-378 (North Carolina’s compulsory education law); see also Delconte v. State, 329 S.E.2d 636, 640 (N.C. 1985).
Qualified non-public schools have one or more of the following characteristics: (1) the school is accredited by the State Board of Education; (2) the school is accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency; (3) the school is an active member of the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools; and/or (4) the school receives no funding from the State of North Carolina. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-555; see also POMS PR 08205.036. North Carolina law also requires that qualifying non-public schools comply with certain attendance, health, safety, and minimum testing requirements, see N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 115C-556 to -558. For instance, each school must make and maintain annual attendance and disease immunization records for each pupil enrolled and regularly attending classes. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-556. The school must operate on a regular schedule during at least nine calendar months of the year, excluding reasonable holidays and vacations. See id. The school must annually administer a nationally standardized test or other nationally standardized equivalent test measuring achievement in certain academic areas to all enrolled students in grades three, six, nine, and eleven. See N.C. Gen Stat. § 115C-557.
Here, the SOAR Academy is accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency. See Press Release, Academy at SOAR, The Academy at SOAR Earns SACS CASI Accreditation (Mar. 5, 2014), available at http://soarnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/SACS-CASI-Press-Release.pdf. Additionally, based on information supplied by A~ and the SOAR Academy, the school operates on a regular schedule during at least nine calendar months of the year (see SSA-1372 (noting that school is 35 hours per week running from September 2014 to May 2015, or nine calendar months)). And while neither A~ nor the SOAR Academy provided information about whether the school keeps attendance or immunization records or administers standardized tests, the North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education lists the SOAR Academy in its Directory of Non-Public Schools. See 2014 North Carolina Directory of Non-Public Schools 47 (noting for the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year available, SOAR Academy is accredited by SA, or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), available at http://www.ncdnpe.org/documents/13-14-CS-Directory.pdf. The directory notes that the schools listed in it were “operating legally.” Id. at 1. Given this—and the fact that the Division recognizes that non-public schools must keep attendance and immunization records and administer standardized tests, see Division of Non-Public Education, State of North Carolina Private K-12 School Requirements, http://www.ncdnpe.org/hhh104.aspxâwe believe that the SOAR Academy meets all of the requirements of North Carolina law to be a private elementary/secondary school.
Accordingly, the SOAR Academy is a secondary school under the laws of North Carolina and, thus, qualifies as a secondary school under the Act.
The SOAR Academy is located in North Carolina. Therefore, we look to North Carolina law to determine whether it is an educational institution for purposes of CIB. Based on the information provided by Claimant and the SOAR Academy, in addition to information available from the State of North Carolina, the SOAR Academy is an educational institution under North Carolina law.
As you note, there are two addresses for the SOAR Academy, one in North Carolina and another in Wyoming. However, both A~ and the SOAR Academy Director indicated that the school was in Balsam, North Carolina. This is consistent with the school’s website, which indicates that the SOAR Academy is a boarding school in North Carolina but sometimes holds “camps” in Wyoming.
Although the Act and regulations refer to “elementary or secondary school,” the POMS refers to Educational Institutions. We will refer to them interchangeably.
All subsequent cites to the N.C. Gen. Stat. are to West’s 2013 edition.
POMS PR 08205.036 indicates that a school must be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. But in 2013, the North Carolina legislature amended § 115C-555 to require only that a school be accredited by “a national or regional accrediting agency.” See N.C. Sess. Laws 2013-360, § 8.29(c), available at http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/SessionLaws/PDF/2013-2014/SL2013-360.pdf.