You have requested our opinion as to whether the First Assembly Christian Academy
located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a religious, private, nonaccredited school, qualifies
as an “educational institution” within the meaning of section 202(d)(7) of the Social Security Act (the Act), 42
U.S.C. S 402(d)(7). It is our opinion that the school does qualify as an educational
institution because it complies with the state compulsory attendance statutes.
The very limited materials provided to us indicate that Nicolas L. E~ (Nicolas), presumably
a beneficiary of child's benefits, attends or attended the First Assembly Christian
Academy (FAC Academy) in Cheyenne, Wyoming. You indicated that the FAC Academy is
not approved or accredited by the State of Wyoming. You also indicated that the FAC
Provides elementary and secondary education for grades Kindergarten through high school
Requires teachers to have three years teaching experience in private school but does
not require certification;
Is in session 180 days per year, although previously was in session for only 175 days
Uses “School of Tomorrow for Christian Schools” teaching materials;
Keeps computerized school records; and
Provides courses in Civics, Math, History, English, and Physical Education.
Finally, you noted that Nicolas was or is taking courses in English literature, Civics,
Economics, Physical Education, bible, and Business Math, and attended or is attending
school for 20 hours per week.
We contacted the school to obtain further information about the FAC Academy. The school
does provide a diploma to students upon successful completion of the twelfth grade:
an Accelerated, Christian Education, or ACE, diploma. According to the school, this
diploma is accepted by many colleges as evidence of high school graduation. Also,
the FAC Academy is housed in a building, formerly a junior high school building, purchased
by the First Assembly Christian Church; the Church is also housed in the building.
Relevant Federal and State Law
The Social Security Act provides for benefits for children of individuals entitled
to Social Security benefits or of individuals who die with sufficient Social Security
insurance coverage. See 42 U.S.C. 402(d). Eligibility for child's insurance benefits usually terminates when
the child attains age 18. See id. 402(d) (1)(b), (6) (7). Eligibility for child's benefits may continue, however, if
(among other things) the child “was a full-time
elementary or secondary student and had not attained the age of
19.” See id. 402(d)(1).
A “full-time elementary or secondary student” is an individual who is in full-time attendance as a student at an elementary or
secondary school, as determined by the Commissioner (in accordance with regulations
prescribed by the Commissioner) in light of the standards and practices of the schools
involved . . . .
Id. 402(d)(7)(A). “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.” Id. 402(d)(7)(C)(i). Except for two specific exceptions noted in the Social Security
regulations, the student must be scheduled to attend school for at least 20 hours
per week in order to be considered a full-time student. See 20 C.F.R. 404.367(c) (2001); see also Memorandum, Status
of Life Christian High School, St. Louis, Missouri, as an Educational
Institution, . . ., RCC VII (Smith/Meehan) to ARC MOS, SSA RVII, Aug. 17, 2001.
Wyoming has few legal requirements relevant to religiously-based private schools.
Indeed, parochial, church, and religious schools are expressly exempted from the State's
statutes pertaining to private school licensing. Wyo. Stat. Ann. 21-2-406 (West, WESTLAW
Wyoming's compulsory school attendance provisions provide that
[e]very parent, guardian or other person having control or charge of any child who
is a resident of [Wyoming] and whose seventh birthday falls on or before September
15 of any year and who has not yet attained his sixteenth birthday or completed the
tenth grade shall be required to send such child to, and such child shall be required
to attend, a public or private school each year, during the entire time that the public schools shall be in session
in the district in which the pupil resides . . . .
Wyo. Stat. Ann. 21-4-102 (emphasis added). The statute defines “private
school” as “any nonpublic, elementary or secondary
school providing a basic academic educational program for
children and may include parochial and church or religious
schools and home-based educational programs . . . .” Id. 21-4-101(iii) (emphasis added). A “parochial, church or religious school” is a school that is “operated under the auspices or control of
a local church or religious congregation or a denomination established
to promote and promulgate the commonly held religious doctrines of
the group though it may also include basic academic subjects in
its curriculum.” Id. 21-4-101(a)(iv). The statute expressly states that “nothing” contained in Wyoming laws pertaining to private school licensing “grants
to the state of Wyoming or any of its officers, agencies or subdivisions
any right or authority to control, manage, supervise or make any
suggestions as to the control, management or supervision of any
parochial, church or religious school . . . .” Id. A “[b]asic academic
educational program is one that provides a sequentially progressive
curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, writing, mathematics,
civics, history, literature and science. . . .” Id. 21-4-101(a)(vi).
Finally, Wyoming law provides that schools be operated for a minimum of 175 days each
school year. Id. 21-4-301.
Based on the information available, the FAC Academy provides a “basic educational program” for its students and apparently always required attendance of its students for a
minimum of 175 days. Wyoming's compulsory school attendance law may be complied with
by attendance at a private school, which includes a religious school such as the FAC
Academy. As a result, we conclude that the FAC Academy does provide secondary education
under the law of the State of Wyoming and is an educational institution under Social
Security law and regulations.
The lack of approval or accreditation of the school under Wyoming law does not detract
from our conclusion. Legal opinions from the Office of the General Counsel have addressed
the issue of whether an institution that has not been accredited by the state in which
it is located can qualify as an educational institution. See Memorandum, Status
of Circle Christian Academy as an Educational Institution , RCC RVIII (Luedemann/Ertl-Lombardi) to ARC, SSA, May 1, 1992; Memorandum, Educational
Institution Status of Gethsemane Christian Academy , RCC RIII (Bradley/Winn) to RC, SSA, August 21, 1991; Memorandum, Determining
the Educational Institution (EI) Status of Liberty Christian School
(LCS), RCC RV (Weinstein/Michaelson) to RC, SSA, November 15, 1990; Memorandum, Status of Northwest Indian Bible
School as an Educational Institution, RCC RVIII (Leudemann/Blair) to RC, SSA, January 26, 1990. These opinions concluded
that there was legal support for the conclusion that an educational institution need
not be affirmatively accredited or approved by the state, and that if a nonpublic
school meets all of the requirements under the state's compulsory education law, the
school can be found to provide an education that is recognized under state law.
Finally, with regard to Nicolas, you indicated that he attended or attends school
for twenty hours per week. Thus, Nicolas met or meets the regulatory requirement of
at least 20 hours attendance per week.