You asked whether an internet high school based in Georgia can be considered an educational
institution for an 18-year-old Ohio recipient of survivors benefits. Because the internet
high school is based in Georgia, we referred the matter to our OGC office in Region
IV, Atlanta, to consider whether the high school could be considered an educational
institution under Georgia law. In addition, because the benefit recipient lives in
Ohio, we considered whether the school could be considered an educational institution
under Ohio law. We conclude that the internet high school is not an educational institution
under the laws of either Georgia or Ohio.
The number holder, Timothy , had been entitled to disability benefits from November
1995 until he died in December 1999. His daughter, Jonda , born June XX, 1989, received
auxiliary benefits until December 1999, when she was converted to survivors benefits.
She was terminated when she turned 18 in June 2007.
In July 2007, Ms. completed an SSA 1372 stating that she had been attending Ashworth
University High School since May 2007 (as confirmed by Ashworth), and that her school
year ended in June 2008. She stated that she was scheduled to attend Ashworth over
20 hours a week. An Ashworth school official certified to you that Ms. was in "full-time"
attendance. Ms. 's transcript showed that, by December 2007, she had completed four
credits, and that she had to earn three more credits to complete her high school degree.
An attendance record that Ms. kept showed that, in seven months, she had attended
Ashworth 421.5 hours, averaging 19.3 hours a week.
Ashworth states on its website, http://www.ashworthuniversity.edu, that it is an online institution based in N~, Georgia. It offers a 16-credit general
diploma and 22-credit college prepatory diploma. The materials for both diplomas are
available online and by correspondence. Ashworth employs a "self-paced, web-based
curriculum." A certified teacher is available to provide guidance via email or instant
messaging (IM). Ashworth is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and
Schools, the Distance Education and Training Council, and the Commission on International
and Trans-Regional Accreditation.
Ashworth explicitly recognizes on its website that the Social Security Administration
requires at least 20 hours of attendance a week. It states that "since Ashworth students
work at their own pace, we cannot verify that students work 20 or more hours per week."
In a telephone interview conducted by OGC Region IV on August 14, 2008, with Ms. Renee
M~, a registrar for Ashworth, Ms. M~ explained that Ashworth is privately owned and
not affiliated with the state of Georgia. Ms. M~ elaborated that Ashworth does not
have any reporting requirements to the state of Georgia, the state's department of
education, or any local superintendent of schools. She also said Ashworth does not
monitor or report student attendance (that is, the time a student spends on-line engaged
in course work).
The Social Security Act provides for the payment of survivors benefits to certain
unmarried children of individuals who die fully or currently insured. 42 U.S.C. §
402(d). A child age 18 can continue to receive benefits if the child is unmarried
and is a full-time elementary or secondary school student. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B)(i);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(4)-(5); POMS RS 00205.001A. For purposes of entitlement to child's benefits under this section, a child must
be in full-time attendance as a student at an elementary or secondary school, as determined
by the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.367; POMS RS 00205.300. The Act further provides that an "elementary or secondary school" is "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 00205.200A.
2. Ashworth University High School is not an educational institution under Georgia
Because Ashworth University High School is based in Georgia, we asked Region IV to
assess whether Ashworth is an educational institution under Georgia law. For the following
reasons, Region IV advised us that Ashworth is not an educational institution under
Georgia recognizes three types of educational entities: public schools, private schools,
and home study programs. Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-690(a). Ashworth is not a Georgia public
school under Georgia law; as Ms. M~, the Ashworth registrar, confirmed, Ashworth is
privately owned and is not affiliated with the state of Georgia. To qualify as a "private
school," an institution must (1) have providing education as its primary purpose,
(2) be privately controlled and operate on a continuing basis, (3) provide instruction
each 12 months for the equivalent of 180 school days of education with each school
day consisting of at least four and one-half school hours, (4) provide a basic academic
educational program that includes reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies,
and science, (5) provide to the school superintendent of each local public school
district which has residents enrolled in the private school with a list of the name,
age, and residence of each resident so enrolled and provide monthly updates of students
who enroll or terminate enrollment in the private school, and (6) meet local health
and safety standards. Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-690(b).
According to the information furnished, Ashworth does not qualify as a private school
under Georgia law. Although Ashworth's on-line degree program provides a basic academic
educational program that includes reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies,
and science, and Ashworth is privately owned and operated on a continuous basis, Ashworth
does not meet the reporting or attendance criteria of Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-690(b).
In an interview conducted on August 14, 2008, Ms. M~, a registrar for Ashworth, confirmed
that Ashworth is not affiliated with the state of Georgia and does not report student
enrollment to the superintendents of the local public school districts, nor to any
other state official or department. Ms. M~ also explained that although Ashworth,
being an on-line program, is in continuous operation, Ashworth does not confirm to
the state the actual time of attendance of any individual student, and does not confirm
a student attends the equivalent of 180 school days of education with each school
day consisting of at least four and one-half school hours. Rather, the Ashworth Student
Handbook provides the approximate time it should reasonably take to complete a course
in the "self-paced" curriculum. Students are invited to enroll and start at any time;
study on their own schedule; and graduate quickly. Because the on-line diploma program
does not meet the state's reporting or attendance requirements, Ashworth does not
qualify under Georgia law as a "private school."
Georgia also recognizes a home study or home school program as an educational entity.
Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-690(c). Parents and guardians may teach their children in a home
study program that meets certain requirements. Because Ashworth is not a parent or
guardian of the students enrolled in its program, however, it fails as a threshold
matter to qualify as a home study program under Georgia law. See Ga. Code Ann.§ 20-2-690(c)(3) ("Parents or guardians may teach only their own children
in the home study program . . . ."). Furthermore, Ashworth does not qualify as a home
study program under Georgia law because it does not meet the reporting or attendance
requirements of the statute. See Ga. Code Ann. §§ 20-2-690(c) (1), (2), (5), (6). These sections require a written
declaration listing the names and ages of each home-schooled student be filed with
the local superintendent of schools; certification that instruction is provided an
equivalent of 180 days per year with each day being at least four and one-half hours;
and the monthly submission of attendance records to the local superintendent of schools.
Id. As discussed above, Ashworth does not meet these requirements, and thus would not
be considered a home study program under Georgia law.
3. Ashworth University High School is not an educational institution under Ohio law.
Since Ashworth does not qualify as an educational institution under Georgia law, and
since Ashworth's website suggests that the program may be used to supplement home
schooling, we also considered whether Ashworth could be considered a home school,
or might otherwise be recognized as an educational institution in Ohio, where Ms.
resides. We have found no basis, however, for recognizing the school as an educational
institution under Ohio law.
Under Ohio law, any child of compulsory school age must attend a school that conforms
with the minimum standards of the state board of education. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §
3321.04. A child may be exempted from public school attendance by the child's local
school district superintendent if the child is being instructed at home by a qualified
instructor. Id. In such cases, the superintendent must have on file in his or her office a copy of
papers showing how the instructor's qualifications were determined. Id.
The Ohio Administrative Code further defines "home education" as education "primarily
directed and provided by the parent or guardian of a child." Ohio Admin. Code § 3301-34-01(B).
The Ohio Code also requires that, for home schooling, a parent must provide the local
superintendent certain information, including an assurance that the child will be
provided a minimum of 900 hours of home education each school year. Ohio Admin. Code
Ohio state laws also provide for the establishment of community-based charter schools.
Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3314. These schools also have a compulsory attendance requirement,
of 920 hours a year, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3314.03(A)(11)(a), as well as other requirements.
Finally, Ohio law requires that any child who does not attend a public school must
receive instruction which conforms to the state's minimum standards, including the
hours and terms of attendance. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3321.07.
The terms of Ms. 's enrollment at Ashworth do not satisfy the Ohio definition of a
home school. Because its classes are unmonitored and self-paced, Ashworth is unable
to certify the number of hours of instruction that it provides its students. It explicitly
acknowledges this fact in its written materials, and Ms. M~ confirmed this in her
August 14, 2008 interview. Accordingly, Ashworth does not satisfy Ohio's minimum compulsory
education time requirement for home schooling, and thus cannot be considered an educational
institution under Ohio law.
Even if it were possible that under certain circumstances Ms. 's time log might be
able to be used to satisfy Ohio's minimum compulsory education time requirement for
home schooling, Ms. 's time logs would also not satisfy Ohio's 900-hour requirement.
If Ms. 's time log represents time that she was attending class, and not doing homework
(which generally would not count towards the school attendance requirement), her time
log shows that in seven months she had attended Ashworth 421.5 hours. This is well
under the 900-hour school attendance minimum required in Ohio.
Ms. 's Ashworth program also does not satisfy Ohio's home school requirements because
it was not approved by a school superintendent. We also note that the Ohio Administrative
Code provides that home schooling shall be primarily directed and provided by a parent,
which does not appear to be the case here. Therefore, for all of these reasons, Ashworth
cannot be considered an educational institution as a home school in Ohio.
We note that the Ohio Supreme Court has recently found that, in certain circumstances,
an out-of-state distance-learning home-schooling program can satisfy the requirement
that the student attend "any recognized and accredited" high school, even though the
out-of-state distance-learning home-schooling program was not approved by the state
of Ohio. In Davis v. Davis, the Ohio Supreme Court considered whether the American School, which it termed a
"private, distance-learning" high school, was a "recognized and accredited" high school
for the purposes of qualifying for ongoing child support payments after reaching age
18 under Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3103.03(B). Davis v. Davis, 873 N.E. 2d 1305 (2007). The court observed that the American School was accredited
by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Distance Education and
Training Council, and the Commission on International and Trans-Regional Accreditation. Id. at 1307. These are essentially the same three bodies which accredited Ashworth. The
American School was also recognized, however, by the Illinois Board of Education.
Id. The court concluded that because the American School was recognized by the state
of Illinois, and accredited by three other educational agencies, it was a "recognized
and accredited" high school for the purposes of Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3103.03(B).
Significantly, the Ohio Supreme Court noted in Davis that, by modifying the phrase "recognized and accredited" with the expansive adjective
"any," the Ohio legislature "acknowledged the mobility of individuals in our society,
the educational choices available to them, and the possibility that children may move
to or otherwise attend high schools that are recognized and accredited in different
jurisdictions." Davis, 873 N.E. 2d at 1309-10 (emphasis added). While the question at hand involves different
statutory language, we find it significant that Ohio has recognized the possibility
that a distance-learning home-schooling high school may, under certain circumstances,
constitute an acceptable high school program. But we also note that it may be of significance
that the American School was also recognized by a state board of education, whereas
Ashworth is not.
We similarly recognize our past opinions finding internet-based home-schooling programs
within the state of Ohio to qualify as educational institutions. Whether the Ohio
Distance and Electronic Learning Academy Qualifies as an Ohio Educational Institution
(July 12, 2005) (B~); Whether the Virtual Schoolhouse Qualifies as an Ohio Educational
Institution (May 3, 2005) (B~); Does the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) Qualify
as an Educational Institution Under Ohio Law? (Mar. 7, 2002) (L~). But those schools,
unlike Ashworth, were established under Ohio state laws providing for the establishment
of community-based charter schools which explicitly contemplate the inclusion of internet-based
learning. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 3314.02(A)(7), 3314.03(A)(11)(h), 3314.21, 3314.24,
3314.27. Further, state policies require those schools to follow mandatory attendance
standards, conduct regular face-to-face teacher-student meetings, hire state-certified
teachers, and comply with state-mandated education testing. Ohio Distance and Electronic
Learning Academy at p.6 n.7. Those programs thus differ significantly from Ashworth.
(We note that since our we wrote our last opinion, the Ohio Supreme Court has upheld
the constitutionality of the Community Schools Act. State ex rel. Ohio Congress of Parents & Teachers v. State
Bd. of Educ., 857 N.E. 2d 1148 (2006).)
We also entertained the possibility that Ashworth might qualify as an educational
institution in Ohio under Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3321.07, which excuses a student from
Ohio's compulsory school attendance law if he or she is receiving instruction which
conforms to the state's minimum standards, including the hours and terms of attendance.
But because Ashworth is unable to certify Ms. 's hours and terms of attendance, it
is unable to qualify under this section. If Ashworth were certified by another state,
such as Georgia, then it would be more likely that Ohio would recognize it as an educational
institution, just as the Ohio Supreme Court recognized the American School in Davis. Lacking such certification, however, there is no evidence that Ashworth has been
recognized to meet any state's minimum standards. For these reasons, Ashworth also
does not qualify as an educational institution under Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3321.07.
In sum, we conclude that Ashworth University High School cannot be considered an educational
institution under the laws of Georgia or Ohio.
Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counse
By: Charles R. G~
Assistant Regional Counsel